Coronavirus: With 15,000 cases in the Gulf, here is how GCC states are coping

Medical staff wearing protective gloves takes a swab from a man during drive-thru coronavirus testing at Bahrain Exhibition Center, in Manama, Bahrain. (File photo: Reuters)

The total number of coronavirus cases in the GCC states passed 15,000 on Monday, with all six of the Arabian Gulf countries still enforcing lockdowns of varying degrees almost a month after Bahrain recorded the first death from the new coronavirus in the region on March 16.

The virus, officially known as COVID-19, hit the Arabian Gulf earlier than Europe or the US, where most daily coronavirus deaths are now being recorded. Many of the first recorded cases either came directly from China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, or from nearby Iran, the worst-affected country in the Middle East.

In comparison to other regions, the GCC states moved fairly fast to impose restrictions on movement and mass gatherings – measures aimed at slowly the spread of the virus.

As a result, they have been fairly successful in keeping numbers relatively low. Although most of the GCC states have experienced a relatively rapid rise in cases during the first two weeks of April, their death rates have remained low in comparison to worse-hit countries in the world.

Here is a country-by-country summary of how the GCC states have coped with coronavirus so far – and what may lie in wait for the future.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has the most total confirmed coronavirus cases in the region, with 4,934, and the highest death toll, at 65. However, it is also by far the largest country in the GCC, both in terms of population and area.

When taking population into account – with 34.76 million people, Saudi Arabia is larger than all the rest of the GCC states put together – the Kingdom has 141 cases per million people.

This number is less than the other GCC states: Qatar has 1,207 cases per million, Bahrain has 883, the UAE has 411, Kuwait has 276 and Oman has 164.

The Kingdom’s relatively low number may reflect the virus reaching Saudi Arabia after it had already been confirmed in the rest of the Arab Gulf states – on March 2, via a Saudi Arabian national returning from Iran.

Saudi Arabian officials moved swiftly to put measures in place when the Kingdom still had very few confirmed cases of the virus, shutting down domestic and international travel, closing businesses, and eventually imposing 24-hour curfews on all major cities.

While Saudi Arabia may have the highest absolute numbers in the Arabian Gulf, the rate of daily increase has been steadier than its neighbors – between 10-12 percent since April 9, and not rising above 12 percent since March 31.

However, Saudi Arabia’s Health Minister Dr. Tawfig al-Rabiah warned that the number of cases in the Kingdom could reach up to 200,000 within weeks, based on four different studies conducted by Saudi and foreign experts. His lower estimate was 10,000.

The UAE

The UAE has the second highest number of total confirmed cases in the region at 4,521 as of Monday, with 25 deaths. In cases per million, it is third in the region.

The country was the first in the wider Middle East to record a case of coronavirus, a 73-year-old Chinese woman on January 29. The announcement was followed shortly by several other cases, most of whom were also Chinese tourists.

Having shut schools and closed bars, gyms, malls and various other gathering places, authorities moved to a stricter nighttime curfew labelled as a “nationwide disinfection program” on March 26. On April 4, the Emirate of Dubai extended the curfew to last 24-hours a day with permits required to leave the house, effectively putting the emirate in lockdown.

In line with its efforts to restrict movement, the UAE has also been working on expanding its testing capabilities. Following the establishment of a drive-thru testing center in Abu Dhabi, authorities have rolled out similar centers across the country, including most recently in Fujairah.

The UAE has also established a massive testing laboratory in coordination with genomics company BGI and Abu Dhabi technology company Group 42 (G42) and a home-testing service for people with disabilities.

Additionally, the UAE could flatten its curve – the number of new cases recorded daily – in two to three weeks, according Dr. Adil Sajwani, a family medicine doctor with the Ministry of Health and Prevention and a member of the national awareness team for COVID-19 in the UAE.

“We hope that we will contain the disease in the next two to three weeks,” Sajwani told Al Arabiya English. “But people are still going out, they’re still gathering, some are still having parties, so this is also a challenge. Containing or flattening the curve is a challenge.”

Qatar

Qatar has the third-highest number of total infections in the GCC, with 3,231. However, it has the highest number of cases per million population, with 1,207 cases per million of its 2.76 million population.

The first case in the country was confirmed on February 27, but the number of cases began to rise more steeply from mid-March onwards, beginning with the announcement of 238 new cases in a single day on March 11.

Many of the cases are believed to be within crowded labor camps for migrant workers, according to media reports. As well as implementing standard restrictions on contact including closing shops and stopping Friday Prayers, Qatar has also locked down the “Industrial Area” where many migrant workers are confined.

Qatar has experienced a relatively steady rise of 6-9 percent in daily cases in the last four days, a slowdown from early April, with a 23 percent increase in cases on April 4 being the country’s highest daily increase so far.

Bahrain

Bahrain has the fourth highest number of total cases in the GCC, at 1,361 as of Monday, but with a rate of 883 cases per million population – the second highest in the Arabian Gulf.

The small island country announced its first case on February 21, following by a number of cases who had come directly or indirectly from Iran. Due to the large number of cases imported from Iran, Bahraini officials have accused the Iranian government of “biological aggression” by allegedly facilitating the spread of the virus to Bahrain.

Bahrain was the first GCC state to record a death from coronavirus, a 65-year-old woman who died from COVID-19 on top of underlying and chronic health problems on March 16.

Like its neighbors, Bahrain has implemented various measures to control the spread of coronavirus, including closing schools and shutting businesses. However, it also emerged as one of the first countries in the world which had put in place restrictions to begin to ease them, reopening several malls this week.

Kuwait

Kuwait has the second least total number of infections in the GCC, with 1,300 as of Monday, and the second least when measured by cases by population.

The first three cases in Kuwait were announced on February 24, all of which had arrived from Iran which was witnessing an explosion of cases at the time. Many of the subsequent cases confirmed in Kuwait during late February were also people arriving from Iran.

Kuwait was quick to impose an 11-hour curfew on its population beginning on March 22, along with heavy fines for breaking the rules. The curfew is still in place. Like other GCC countries, Kuwait has also shut schools and closed businesses.

The daily rate of cases has been increasing at a relatively steady rate in Kuwait, but did jump significantly in early April, with a 20 percent increase on April 6 being the highest daily percentage increase so far.

Oman

Oman has the lowest number of total cases in the GCC, with 727 and only four deaths as of Monday. It is also the lowest when taking into account population.

The Sultanate of Oman announced its first two cases of COVID-19 on February 24, two Omani women who had caught the virus in Iran. The rate of increase in the country has remained relatively stable, with only 192 cases by the end of March.

The Omani government under new Sultan Haitham bin Tariq has put some measures in place, including a complete lockdown in the capital Muscat, where a majority of the cases have been identified. However, the rest of the country is not under a complete curfew or lockdown.

While Oman has survived with fewer cases so far, the rate of new cases has been increasing in the last week – suggesting Oman may be on a similar trajectory to its neighbors, but a week or so behind in terms of numbers.

The Omani Minister of Health acknowledged on Thursday that the country was due to experience a rise in cases. “The cases are increasing, and we have not reached the peak,” said Dr Ahmed Mohammed Obaid Al Saidi.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 10:06 - GMT 07:06
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