As winter nears and coronavirus cases surge across the Middle East, the regional director for the World Health Organization said Thursday the only way to avoid mass deaths is for countries to quickly tighten restrictions and enforce preventative measures.
In a press briefing from Cairo, Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region, which comprises most of the Middle East, expressed concern that countries in the area were lowering their guard after tough lockdowns imposed earlier this year.
The fundamentals of pandemic response, from social-distancing to mask wearing, “are still not being fully practiced in our region,” he said, adding that the result is apparent throughout the region’s crowded hospitals.
Noting that the virus had sickened over 3.6 million people and killed more than 76,000 in the region over the past nine months, al-Mandhari warned “the lives of as many people _ if not more _ are at stake,” urging action to “prevent this tragic premonition from becoming a reality.”
More than 60% of all new infections in the past week were reported from Iran, which has seen the worst outbreak in the region, as well as Jordan and Morocco, he said. Cases are also up in Lebanon and Pakistan. Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon have reported the biggest single-day death spikes from the region.