Two unwelcome milestones in Saudi Arabia’s coronavirus epidemic

New Covid-19 cases in Saudi Arabia, day by day during the past two months

Saudi Arabia’s Covid-19 epidemic passed two unwelcome milestones at the weekend when the daily number of new cases rose above 3,000 for the first time and the overall total of confirmed cases crossed the 100,000 mark.

During the last couple of months the kingdom has reported more new infections each day than any other Arab country, apart from a few days when it was briefly overtaken by Qatar.

In the first week of April, when there were merely 2,000 known cases, the Saudi health minister cited expert studies predicting the total could rise to between 10,000 and 200,000 “ over the next few weeks” — and the kingdom is now in the upper half of that range.

New cases reached an initial peak in mid-May and dropped back in the second half of the month, only to rise again from the beginning of June. Even if that turns out to be just a blip, it’s clear that the end of the Saudi epidemic is still a long way off.

There are a few positive points, however. The kingdom’s death toll is mercifully low — 712 according to official figures (though it’s unclear how they are compiled) and as a result of large numbers recovering the total of active cases has been kept below 29,000.

It’s also important to note that Saudi Arabia has a much larger population than other Arab states in the Gulf. When population differences are taken into account it actually has the lowest number of confirmed cases per million inhabitants. Qatar ( as previously discussed) has the most — by a long way.

That might seem reassuring for the Saudis, if not for the Qataris. But when levels of testing by the Arab Gulf states are compared and adjusted for population, Saudi Arabia comes second from bottom — which raises the possibility that it has a high level of undetected cases.

Middle East updates

New cases

A further 12,928 Covid-19 infections have been reported in the Middle East and North Africa since yesterday’s update.

Saudi Arabia reported the region’s biggest day-on-day increase with 3,045 new cases, followed by Qatar with 2,963 and Iran with 2,364.

The list below shows cumulative totals (excluding Iran) since the outbreak began, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 10,154 (+104)
Bahrain 14,763 (+18)
Egypt 34,079 (+1,467)
Iraq 12,366 (+1,268)
Israel 17,915 (+132)
Jordan 808 (+13)
Kuwait 32,150 (+302)
Lebanon 1,331 (+11)
Libya 256 (-)
Morocco 8,250 (+73)
Oman 17,486 (+604)
Palestine 651 (+8)
Qatar 70,158 (+2,963)
Saudi Arabia 101,914 (+3,045)
Sudan 6,081 (-)
Syria 141 (+16)
Tunisia 1,087 (-)
UAE 38,808 (+540)
Yemen 488 (+2)

TOTAL: 368,398 (+10,564)

Note: Yemen’s total includes four cases reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country. Palestine’s total includes East Jerusalem.

New Covid-19 cases reported in the Middle East (excluding Iran) day by day during the past two months

Death toll

A further 203 coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the region yesterday — 72 of them in Iran. Egypt reported 39 deaths and Saudi Arabia 36.

The list below shows cumulative totals in the region outside Iran, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 707 (+9)
Bahrain 26 (+1)
Egypt 1,237 (+39)
Iraq 346 (+28)
Israel 298 (+1)
Jordan 9 (-)
Kuwait 269 (+5)
Lebanon 30 (+1)
Libya 5 (-)
Morocco 208 (-)
Oman 81 (+6)
Palestine 5 (-)
Qatar 54 (+3)
Saudi Arabia 712 (+36)
Sudan 359 (-)
Syria 6 (-)
Tunisia 49 (-)
UAE 276 (+1)
Yemen 113 (+1)

TOTAL: 4,790 (+131)

Note: Yemen’s total includes one death reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country.

CLICK HERE for previous updates

For anyone interested: A spreadsheet documenting the coronavirus cases and deaths reported in the region each day can be viewed here.

Originally published at

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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