Coronavirus: Middle East Containment Window Closing, Says WHO

A general view shows Ahmed al-Mandhari, World Health Organization regional director for Eastern Mediterranean, speaking at a news briefing at WHO's regional office in Cairo, Egypt February 19, 2020. (Reuters)
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Governments in the Middle East need to act fast to limit the spread of the coronavirus after cases rose to nearly 60,000, almost double their level a week earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

“New cases have been reported in some of the most vulnerable countries with fragile health systems,” said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the WHO’s director for the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Djibouti, as well as Middle Eastern states.

“Even in countries with stronger health systems, we have seen a worrying spike in the numbers of cases and deaths reported,” he said in a statement.

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Outside of Iran, which has reported just over 50,000 cases, confirmed coronavirus numbers have been relatively low in the Middle East compared to Europe, the United States and Asia.

“I cannot stress enough the urgency of the situation,” said Mandhari. “The increasing numbers of cases show that transmission is rapidly occurring at local and community levels.”

“We still have a window of opportunity, but this window is slowly closing day by day,” he added.

The total number of cases in the region has risen to 58,168 from 32,442 on March 26, the WHO said, on a day when global COVID-19 cases crossed the 1 million mark.

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