Risk of 'catastrophic' coronavirus surge in Middle East, says WHO

After a decline in cases and deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region, infections are again on the rise

Iranians in the capital Tehran on July 7. Daily Covid-19 cases in the country almost doubled in four weeks. AFP

A surge of coronavirus cases in several Middle East countries, aggravated by the spread of the Delta strain and low vaccine access, could have dire consequences, the World Health Organisation said on Wednesday.

After a decline in cases and deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region for eight weeks, the WHO said there had been significant rises in infections for Libya, Iran, Iraq and Tunisia.

Sharp rises were also expected in Lebanon and Morocco.

Next week countries across the region will mark the Eid Al Adha holiday, which traditionally includes religious and social gatherings where infections could spread.

"WHO is concerned that the current Covid-19 upsurge may continue to peak in the coming weeks, with catastrophic consequences," the agency's regional office said.

The WHO said a lack of adherence to public health and social measures and "increasing complacency by communities", as well as low vaccination rates and the spread of new variants, were to blame.

The agency said Tunisia had the highest coronavirus mortality rate per capita in the region and Africa, and that daily cases had almost doubled in Iran over the four weeks to early July.

The number of reported Covid-19 cases in the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Djibouti as well as Middle East states, passed 11.4 million, the WHO said.

More than 223,000 deaths had been reported, it said.

Updated: July 14th 2021, 9:59 PM