Coronavirus in the Middle East: updates for March 1

Amid accusations that Iran is trying to conceal the full scale of its coronavirus epidemic, the health ministry revised its statistics upwards on Saturday. The official tally of COVID-19 cases is now 593 — an increase of 205 on Friday’s figure. Iran’s official death toll has also been revised from 34 to 43. Despite these revisions, there’s a widespread belief that the true figures are much higher.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, 15 new cases have been confirmed: five in Iraq, three each in Bahrain and Lebanon, two in the UAE, and one each in Qatar and Kuwait. This brings the cumulative total to 144.

Additionally, seven tourists who were recently in Egypt have been found to have the virus after returning home. These are not included in the updated tally below since they were diagnosed outside the Middle East.

Algeria 1 (-)
Bahrain 41 (+3)
Egypt 1 (-)
Iraq 13 (+5)
Israel 7 (-)
Kuwait 46 (+1)
Lebanon 7 (+3)
Oman 6 (-)
Qatar 1 (+1)
UAE 21 (+2)

CLICK HERE for previous updates

Country-by-country round-up

Algeria: An Italian employee of the energy firm Eni who tested positive on arriving in Algeria on Tuesday has been flown back to Italy. No other cases have been confirmed in Algeria so far.

Bahrain: Three new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total to 41. The latest three are Bahraini citizens — two women and a man — who were diagnosed on arrival via indirect flights from Iran.

Egypt: Six French travellers — members of a tour group that visited Egypt during the first half of February — have been diagnosed with the virus after returning to France. In Canada, a man with “a travel history to Egypt” has also tested positive after presenting himself at a hospital. At present it’s unclear whether these people caught the virus from fellow-travellers or residents of Egypt. Either way, it could have a serious impact on Egypt’s economically important tourism industry. So far, the Egyptian authorities are not revealing where the tourists stayed but they say workers at the relevant location are being checked.

Iraq: The health ministry reported five new cases on Saturday — four in Baghdad and one in Babel province. All five are said to have been in quarantine after returning from visits to Iran. All 13 of Iraq’s known cases — 12 of whom are Iraqis — have been linked to travel in Iran. The first case to be confirmed in Iraq was that of an Iranian student who has reportedly been “sent back” to Iran.

Kuwait confirmed one new case on Sunday morning, involving a person who had been in Iran. Kuwait has been busy repatriating its citizens from countries where there are serious outbreaks. Five flights bringing Kuwaitis home from Iran, and one flight from Thailand, arrived on Saturday. Those coming from Iran are in quarantine and those from Thailand are under observation at home. Fifty-two Kuwaitis who have returned from Italy are also under observation.

Lebanon: Three new cases were confirmed on Saturday, bringing the total to eight. The latest three, who were apparently already quarantined, are reported to have caught the virus from others in Lebanon who were known to be infected. Amir Wang, a Chinese student at a university in Lebanon, has posted a video on YouTube complaining of verbal abuse. He says in the video: “When I walk in the streets, in Beirut, Sidon, or even Shheem [where he lives], there are always people who are scared of me, or who avoid me or call me ‘Corona’.”

Oman: The health ministry announced that 1,320 people are in quarantine. Among the six previously confirmed cases, one person is said to have fully recovered and the symptoms of the other five are described as mild.

Qatar announced its first confirmed case on Saturday: a 36-year-old Qatari man who arrived on a government-chartered evacuation flight from Iran on Thursday. He had been quarantined since arriving, as have others on the same flight.

UAE: Two Italians involved in the UAE Tour — an international cycling event — are now confirmed as having the virus. The final stages of the race, due to have been held on Friday and Saturday, were cancelled when the cases were first suspected. According to the health minister, the two Italians were members of a technical crew “who typically do not mix with participants”. Neverthless, 612 people who had contact with them are under observation and so far none have tested positive. Meanwhile, health ministry has cautioned the public against using a type of face mask known as the N95 respirator to protect against coronavirus. It says these are only intended for use by medical staff: “Use of these masks by the general public may impose pressure on the user’s respiratory system and may cause respiratory diseases among its users. The use of these masks is also strictly forbidden for children.”

Originally published at https://al-bab.com.

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store