Middle East Still in the First Wave of the Pandemic
Except for Iran, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is still going through different stages of the first wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic. While Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two largest countries in the region, have reached the peak of the first wave, most countries in the region are witnessing notable drops in the number of cases indicating a near end of the first wave. According to experts, Iran, however, can be considered to be the only country currently going through a second wave.
According to Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Programme, in a press conference that was held on May 16, a second wave is when the number of cases rises again after months of being low.
The main indicator of a country going through a second wave is an initial drop in the number of cases, which has yet to happen in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia where the curve is still stable since the beginning of the pandemic. This indicates that they are still in the first wave.
Iran is still recording record high daily cases, reaching more than 3,000 cases a day. These spikes came after a progressive decline in the number of cases that started after 3,186 cases were recorded on March 30 after which the number of cases started to gradually decline, reaching 802 new cases on May 2, and then rising once again. A report published by the BBC on June 4 attributed this second wave in Iran to “ill-informed government policies on the one hand, and social indifference on the other”. The WHO advises countries that want to ease restrictions to contain the economic impact of the lockdown to do so gradually while scientifically assessing the risks. Yet, it recommends that still abide by social distancing, which did not happen in Iran which started to ease restrictions in April and then eased restrictions even more at the beginning of June when they reopened mosques, returned all employees to work, and reopened the border with Turkey.
The Iranian Ministry of Health partially attributed the rise in cases to an increase in testing, clarifying that the number of daily deaths has not risen proportionately to the rise in cases. While this does give some credibility to this argument, a report published by The Guardian on June 4, cites experts undermining this claim, saying, “Only 10 days ago, the number of new cases was less than 2,000, so this rapid rise of cases in the last five days cannot be solely attributed to increased testing”. The Iranian Ministry of Health also blamed citizens, claiming that the rise in cases was due to citizens not abiding by health protocols. Iranian officials are now facing the dilemma of deciding whether they should reimpose restrictions or not, a decision that would not find popular support and would damage the already fragile economy suffering from sanctions.