How the Coronavirus is changing the Middle East

How the Coronavirus is changing the Middle East

The outbreak which began at the end of 2019 in Central China (in the Hubei province) has now spread to more than 160 countries and was recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.

In the Middle East, Iran became the epicenter of this new virus and started a chain reaction spreading COVID-19 to most neighboring Arab countries. Now, more than 64,8686 cases of infection have been recorded in the country leaving 3,993 people dead.



In Afghanistan, COVID-19 came from Iran and spread to the city of Herat at the end of February. A 35-year-old man returned from Qom was patient zero in Afghanistan. The residents of Herat city are mostly Shia Muslims and often visit neighboring Iran as pilgrims. More than 30,000 Afghan refugees from Iran returned home through the Herat border trying to escape the epidemic. They now account for more than 75% of cases in Afghanistan.

In addition to this, 38 people escaped from quarantine which further triggered the spread of the virus across the country. Today, according to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Health, 665 cases of COVID-19 infection have already been recorded, and 21 infected patients have died.

For Afghanistan, the outbreak has become an extremely serious matter. The country is in a very difficult political situation given the structure of dual power. The coronavirus affected the terms of the US deal with the Taliban, especially the withdrawal of foreign troops. The commander of the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Austin Scott Miller, temporarily restricted the movement of allied forces in order to combat the new disease.

Among the measures taken by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Health and the government of Ashraf Ghani are border closers, flight cancellations and bans on exporting medical masks from the country. Violating these rules will result in criminal liability by law enforcement. A complete ban on mass celebrations of Nowruz (Afghan New Year) and the performance of collective prayers in mosques was also introduced.

On March 24, the Taliban completely ceased hostilities in Afghanistan. It seems the coronavirus was the one “power” to change the long-standing war between the Taliban and the government in Kabul. The Taliban are ready for negotiating with the authorities. The Taliban, following the army of Afghanistan, began an active campaign against coronavirus. Thus, in the territories controlled by the Taliban, militants began distributing informative leaflets to civilians with information on how to fight the coronavirus. The Taliban also distribute soap and medical masks to people.

According to a spokesman of Taliban, it is currently working to allocate funds to a special foundation for creation of individual diagnostic and treatment centers.

In addition, the Taliban called on international organizations to cooperate in the fight against coronavirus.

Accepting the Taliban’s help, the World Bank has approved grant funding in the amount of $100.4 million to fight the spread of the new coronavirus in Afghanistan.


The coronavirus also first came to Iraq to cities with large Shiite populations through Iranian pilgrims. In early March, when the number of infected people began to grow, the Iraqi authorities closed five border–crossing points with Iran because of the spread of coronavirus. According to recent data, 1,352 people were infected, 76 of which died in Iraq.

At that time in Iraq, a curfew was imposed across the country. All state institutions, schools and universities were closed and international flights were cancelled.

Reuters was affected by the spread of the coronavirus in Baghdad. The Iraqi authorities suspended Reuters news agency’s license and fined it 25 million Iraqi dinars ($ 21,000) after the British wire service reported that confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country exceeded official statistics.  Baghdad’s Media and Communications Commission said in a special statement that Reuters “is blocking the Iraqi authorities from fighting the coronavirus and making a negative image of the crisis headquarters created by the government.”

The withdrawal of the Forces of the International Anti-Terrorism Coalition, led by the United States from Al-Taqaddum Air Base located in Anbar province, became an important event for Iraq against the background of the coronavirus. The Government of Iraq received property worth $ 3.5 million. France, and later Germany, were the first countries to withdraw troops from Iraq.

On March 26, a foreign contingent was evacuated from the base of Al-Qiyar, located under the Iraqi Mosul. On March 29, the International Anti-Terrorism Coalition announced the transfer of the military airbase located in the province of Kirkuk to the Iraqi army. On March 30, the Iraqi news portal Baghdad ‘Al-Yaum’ reported that the Coalition had transferred its military base in the province of Nineveh (located in the north of the country near the border with Syria) to the Iraqi army.


The coronavirus also came to Lebanon also from Iran, but the mortality  is not nearly as high as it is in Iraq. According to recent data, the coronavirus has infected 632 people, only 20 of which have died.

A Lebanese TV-channel spread fake news that pets may be carriers of the coronavirus which led to the mass disposal and death of pets across the country.

People on Lebanese social media have strongly condemned this message of TV-channel over the past few days. They published photos and videos of a large number of homeless animals in Lebanese cities.

Lebanon has closed its borders, halted all air travel, cancelled mass events and banned all visits to churches and mosques. Mass self-isolation has been introduced, and total quarantine has begun in some areas of the country. Citizens are forbidden to move around from seven o’clock in the evening until five in the morning, ordered to stay at home. By the decision of the government, state institutions, shopping centers, theaters, cinemas, museums, sports clubs, restaurants, cafes, exhibition halls are closed across the country. On February 29, classes at schools and universities were cancelled and kindergartens were closed.

The Shiite militant group ‘Hezbollah’ joined the government in the fight against the coronavirus. Hezbollah trained more than 24,000 doctors, nurses, and volunteers to assist, and prepared two hospitals in Beirut to provide the necessary medical care for people infected. They also rented private clinics, reserving them to be used as hospitals in case of need. The party chose strategic places to deploy field hospitals in order to isolate those infected.

“We have prepared 100 transport units for transporting patients with coronavirus, 25 of them are equipped with artificial respiration devices,” said Sayyed Hashem Safiyeddin, the head of the Hezbollah’s executive council.

Hezbollah’s leadership helped reduce the burden on state hospitals ordered to provide the necessary equipment and diagnostic tests for laboratories, where people may be tested COVID-19. As a result, it has been much easier to determine which patients need to be isolated and who needs hospitalization.

Hezbollah volunteers are mobilized in all villages and settlements to help the population in solving a number of issues, including carrying food and basic necessities and medicines.


Since the beginning of 2020, no cases of coronavirus infection have been detected in Syria. However, after the WHO declared the virus to be a pandemic, the country took a number of preventive measures to stop the spread of infection, especially given that a number of cases have been recorded in neighboring Lebanon. The Syrian government halted air communication with all countries where the virus outbreak was recorded, and the land border with Lebanon was closed. Restaurants, cafes, museums and all places of possible crowds are closed across the country.

At the end of March, the first patient with confirmed coronavirus was registered in Syria: a young man who had just returned from Europe. On March 25, the Syrian Ministry of Health confirmed three more cases of infection with coronavirus. The number of people infected with COVID-19 in Syria now stands at 19, with two patients having died. On the same day, the Syrian government imposed a curfew from 18:00 to 06:00 local time as part of measures to fight the outbreak. Syrian authorities also banned all forms of public transport, closed the border with Lebanon, and started mass disinfection in all cities.

A special department was opened at the University Hospital, one of the largest medical facilities in Syrian Aleppo. Doctors started bringing in locals with coronavirus symptoms.

Determining the exact number of people infected with coronavirus is problematic for the Syrian authorities because of the situation in Idlib province, where the ISIS fighters, as well as Turkish troops, continue military operations.

Russia was the first country to come to the aid of Syria in the fight against the coronavirus. Thus, the Russian cargo vessel ‘Dvinitsa-50’ with three military ambulances were sent from the Novorossiysk port to Syria.

The European Union, in the context of the coronavirus crisis, has approved a new aid package for Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Nearly 240 million euros will be spent to strengthen social assistance, health care, education and child protection in countries neighboring Syria. Thus, the total amount of support provided to the Syrian people through the EU Regional Trust Fund will exceed 2 billion euros.

At the time of the spread of coronavirus, the US State Department called on the Syrian authorities to release prisoners who, according to Washington, were arbitrarily detained.

“In light of threats posed by COVID-19, the United States reiterates its calls for the Assad regime to take concrete steps to protect the fate of thousands of civilians, including U.S. citizens, being held arbitrarily in overcrowded and inhumane conditions in regime detention centers”, said Morgan Ortagus, spokesperson for the United States Department of State. In her opinion, prison conditions in Syria “are prime for the quick spread of the virus which would have devastating impacts on vulnerable detainees who are already in poor health.”

Syrian authorities called on the international community to take action and immediately lift Western sanctions against Syria in the light of the spread of the coronavirus.

However, the UN General Assembly refused to adopt the draft resolution on the lifting of sanctions, which was proposed by the Russian Federation. The US, the EU, Great Britain, Ukraine and Georgia refused to lift restrictions.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also called on creditor countries to suspend payments on certain loans received through the World Bank’s International Development Association, which helps the poorest countries.

The 76 poorest countries, including Syria, have the right to receive financial assistance through this institution.

Substantial assistance to Syria was provided by the WHO. This organization delivered additional equipment for testing coronavirus from Jordan. The WHO also assisted the Syrian Ministry of Health in training 600 specialists who are able to provide qualified help to citizens and take the necessary measures.

The situation is very difficult in al-Rukban, a Syrian refugee camp with a population of about 40,000 people in the US Army-controlled region of Syria near to the north-eastern border of Jordan. There would be little change for survival in a refugee camp hit with the coronavirus epidemic since medical centers have been closed, medical supplies are extremely limited and there are almost no qualified doctors who could help.



The coronavirus spread to both Israeli and Palestine territories through European tourists. Both states are centers for Christian pilgrims.

For the first time in ten years, the threat of the spread of the coronavirus has made countries forget about the long-standing conflict. Palestine and Israel pushed disputes over territorial borders into the background to concentrate on the fight against COVID-19. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin phoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and asked him for cooperation in the fight against coronavirus. A joint infection control headquarters has been established.

Since March 5, President of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas has issued a decree imposing a 30-day emergency regime in all Palestinian territories, and the Basilica of the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, one of the most visited holy places in the world, was closed.

Currently, some 290 cases of infection with a new coronavirus have been confirmed and 2 people have died in Palestinian territories.

It is currently forbidden to leave the house without an emergency and curfew has been introduced across the country, citizens are ordered to maintain quarantine and are prohibited from leaving their homes after 22:00. In addition, residents are prohibited from leaving settlements and Palestinian camps with exceptions for urgent cases. As part of the emergency regime, all schools, kindergartens, institutes and universities are closed, all international and national conferences have been canceled, and a ban has been introduced on rallies, demonstrations and meetings.

A more difficult situation is taking place in the blockaded Gaza Strip, where coronavirus test systems are running out. Ashraf al-Kidra, a spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health, has requested assistance from the international community. Due to the suspension of air land traffic with other states and the sea blockade, the Gaza Strip has difficulties with food and medicine supplies. The only corridor for goods is through Israel.

In this regard, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in the light of the spread of pandemic, provided financial assistance of $ 150 millions for six months to support UN programs in the Gaza Strip.

In Israel, the situation is currently worse than in Palestinian territories. The number of people infected with a COVID-19 in Israel exceeds 11,235 with 110 people already having died.

This is despite that similar restrictions have been adopted there as in Palestine. On March 19, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, declared an emergency and signed a decree imposing a total quarantine (with exceptions for buying food at a nearby store, visiting a pharmacy or going to the doctor). All shrines, churches, mosques and synagogues are closed. Anyone found breaking quarantine is liable to 3 to 7 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 3,000 Israeli shekels ($820).



The first patient in the Hashemite kingdom was a citizen who arrived from Italy. A case of coronavirus infection was recorded in early March. At that time, the tourist season started in Jordan and many Christian pilgrims arrived.

The number of people infected with COVID-19 in the country reached 389. On March 21, the Jordanian government decided to impose a curfew in the kingdom as part of emergency measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The entrances to Amman are blocked by troops and the provincial centers are also isolated from each other. The government’s contingency plan, approved by King Abdullah II, closed down government institutes, enterprises, public transport, newspapers, magazines, shopping centers, movie theaters and sports clubs. Only grocery stores and pharmacies remain open.

Ibrahim Shahada, the Minister of Agriculture, was forced to resign after it was brought to light that his department had been issuing false permits to move during the curfew. King Abdullah II accepted the resignation of Shahada and assigned Saleh al-Harabsha, the Minister of the Environment, to take over Shahada’s duties.


The coronavirus came to the Sultanate of Oman from Iran. Most infected people were Iranian tourists, while another was a patient from Italy.

With the outbreak of coronavirus in the sultanate, the Omani Ministry of Tourism called on foreign tourists to leave the country and return home. After that, all public transport and taxis were suspended in the country. Mass events, including prayers in mosques, were banned. Later, on March 29, the Sultanate of Oman completely halted air travel with other countries with exceptions for cargo transportation and flights to the province of Musandam.

Since April 1, the Omani authorities have decided to introduce a regime of complete isolation in the Matrah district of Muscat province as part of measures to stop the spread of coronavirus. The total number of people infected in the country is 727, with 4 having died.

In Kuwait, the first cases of coronavirus infection were detected in late February. All those infected had been in Iran. Today, the total number of cases in the country has reached 1300 people, with 2 deaths. The emirate’s authorities closed all shopping malls and entertainment centers, banned the holding of any entertainment events, including weddings, both in public institutions and in private salons. Transport links to neighboring countries and a number of other countries were suspended, while religious authorities called on Kuwaitis to pray at home. Studies in all educational institutions will be suspended until August 4, and the new school year will begin on December 1.

Quarantine has been imposed on banknotes, forcing them to be kept in closed boxes for at least four weeks was the most unusual preventive measure taken by the Kuwaiti authorities.

Kuwait has become a major donor of financial assistance to other countries to fight against coronavirus.Kuwait has granted $ 40 million to WHO to fight against the spread of coronavirus. In addition, emirate authorities sent Iran $ 10 million.

In neighboring Qatar, the first case of coronavirus infection was detected on February 29. The carrier was a citizen who had been in Iran.

Today, over 3,321 people are infected in the country, with 7 patients having died.

The Qatari authorities have announced that they will provide more than $23 billion in support for small and medium-sized businesses in the country because of the spread of the coronavirus, and have exempted small and medium-sized private companies from utility bills and rents, and have absolved food and medicine suppliers from paying customs duties for six months.

Qatar, like Kuwait, is stepping in to help other countries. Thus, Qatar provided assistance of 6 tons of drugs and medical equipment for fighting against coronavirus in Iran. Qatar became a financial donor for Palestine and provided the amount of $ 150 millions for fighting against COVID-19.



COVID-19 came to the UAE not from Iran, but directly from Wuhan, China in late January. Cases of infections were recorded among foreign citizens, and already in mid-February, the UAE Ministry of Health reported that the first case had been recorded among the Indian diaspora in the UAE.

Now, the number of people infected with coronavirus in the UAE is 4,123, with 22 people having died.

Standard preventive measures were taken very late. Only on March 25 did the UAE authorities cancel air travel with other countries because of the danger of the spread of coronavirus: arrival to UAE is forbidden to all foreign citizens.

On March 22, disinfection campaigns started in Dubai. On March 26, a night curfew was introduced in the country. On March 29, Dubai metro was closed and bus services in Dubai were suspended.

The UAE introduced strict measures for violating quarantine: five years in prison and fiscal penalty from 48,000 ($13,000) to 100,000 dirhams ($27,000).

The UAE, despite the relatively high number of people infected, is helping other countries to fight against the coronavirus. The UAE even delivered medical assistance to Iran with a special flight. For the first time since 2012 (the height of the Syrian crisis), a telephone conversation took place between the ruler of the UAE, Crown Prince Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Prince promised support for Syria in the fight against coronavirus.

“I discussed with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad updates on COVID-19. I assured him of the support of the UAE and its willingness to help the Syrian people. Humanitarian solidarity during trying times supersedes all matters, and Syria and her people will not stand alone, ” Mohammad Bin Zayed wrote on his Twitter.


The coronavirus came to the Kingdom of Bahrain predominantly through Shiite Muslims from Iran in late February.

According to recent data, 1,016 cases of COVID-19 infection have been detected in the country, including 6 deaths.

Aside from the standard preventive measures, Bahraini authorities have banned the export of hand sanitizers and cleaning supplies for a period of 3 months due to unprecedented domestic demand.

On March 17, the Bahrain government unveiled a $ 11.39 billion stimulus package to support the country’s economy during the pandemic, including incomes on water and electricity over the next 3 months.

The country has banned visiting public places (parks, beaches, cafes and restaurants). Violators can be punished with a fine of 5,000 Bahraini dinars ($13,200) or sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Bahrain became the first Arab country to participate in a WHO clinical research program called SOLIDARITY, which explores new evidence-based coronavirus treatments.



COVID-19 came to Saudi Arabia in early March, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health, from Iran.

However, later new cases of coronavirus infection were detected in those citizens of the kingdom who returned home from the UK, Turkey, Spain, Switzerland, France, Indonesia and Iraq.

Today, there are 4,934 cases of infection with coronavirus, as well as 65 deaths.

Saudi Arabia suspended flights with all other countries, banned all pilgrims and imposed an unlimited 24-hour curfew in the pilgrim cities of Mecca and Medina to limit the spread of the coronavirus. These cities had the highest recorded number of coronavirus cases.

Residents of cities are prohibited from leaving home, with the exception of emergencies анд grocery shopping within their quarter. Cities are closed for entry and exit; only pharmacies, banks and grocery stores continue to work. A person who breaks the rules is liable a fine of at least ;2,700 thousand dollars and imprisonment of up to 20 days.

The main event in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic was OPEC+ deal collapse and the steps taken by Saudi Arabia, which brought down the oil market.

Saudi Arabia could not convince Russia to adopt a plan to reduce oil production, and there the world’s largest oil giant Saudi Aramco lowered oil prices from $14 to $8 per barrel. This was the largest drop in oil prices over the past 30 years.

The fall in oil prices significantly hit the economy of Saudi Arabia which is dependent on oil sales. As a result, Saudi Arabia decided to cut the 2020 budget.

According to Saudi Finance Minister Mohammad al-Jadaan, the treasury will lose a total of 50 billion rials ($13.32 billion), about 5% of the total budget.



The coronavirus also affected the long and debilitating conflict on the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. According to recent data, only one case of COVID-19 infection has been detected in Yemen, but this statistic is rather relative, since Yemen’s land borders with the Saudi Arabia are not closed, and the health system in one of the poorest countries in the world during an exhausting civil war simply does not have the necessary tests and drugs to diagnose a new virus. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic managed to suspend hostilities in Yemen, which had not otherwise stopped since 2014.

On March 23, UN Secretary General Guterres called for an “immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world” in the light of the spread of coronavirus. On Wednesday, the government, acting together with Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the opposing Houthi movement ‘Ansar Allah’, announced its support for the UN Secretary General’s initiative, pointing out that the political, economic and sanitary situation in Yemen requires an end to all forms of escalation.

In turn, the Houthis also declared full readiness and openness to all initiatives to end the war and the blockade of Yemen, as well as interest in a dialogue to achieve a comprehensive solution.

United World International

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April 2024