Middle East still has chance to contain coronavirus spread: WHO

Doctors call a traveler who returned from Iran at their residency, to check if is infected with the novel coronavirus, at Isa Town Health Center, south of Manama, Bahrain, March 2, 2020. (Reuters)

Most Middle Eastern countries are seeing worrying daily increases in cases of the new coronavirus but the region still has a chance to contain its spread, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Tuesday.

The WHO has confirmed more than 77,000 cases and nearly 4,000 deaths in its Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Djibouti, as well as Middle Eastern states, but does not include Turkey.

About 78 percent of those cases are in Iran, with all other countries having fewer than 4,000 cases, and most fewer than 1,000, said Richard Brennan, the WHO’s regional emergency director.

The death rate in the region was similar to that globally and there have been encouraging signs of new cases in Iran flattening off in recent days, though other states were still at risk of an escalation, Brennan told a media briefing in Cairo.

A member of medical team sprays disinfectant as a precautionary move amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at the underground Al Shohadaa Martyrs metro station in Cairo, Egypt on March 22, 2020. (Reuters)

A member of medical team sprays disinfectant as a precautionary move amid concerns over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at the underground Al Shohadaa Martyrs metro station in Cairo, Egypt on March 22, 2020. (Reuters)


“Of all the other countries, in most instances we are seeing still a concerning rise in the number of cases day after day,” he said.

“We really do need a comprehensive approach to the way we scale up the proven public health measures such as the early detection, such as the early testing, the isolation of patients who have the disease.”

Many countries in the region are suffering from the effects of conflict and political crises, raising concerns about their ability to cope with the new coronavirus.

A Syrian refugee woman puts a face mask on a boy as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, in al-Wazzani area, in southern Lebanon, March 14, 2020. (Reuters)

A Syrian refugee woman puts a face mask on a boy as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, in al-Wazzani area, in southern Lebanon, March 14, 2020. (Reuters)


International agencies have raised particular concern over millions of refugees and internally displaced people, and have cautioned that the closure of borders can make the delivery of assistance harder.

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