Libya experiencing 'alarming surge' in Covid-19 cases, UN says

Southern part of the country has faced a ‘terrifying’ increase of 480 per cent and vaccines are hard to find

The UN said on Tuesday that Libya was experiencing an “alarming surge” in Covid-19 cases, with the fast-spreading Delta variant contributing to the highest daily rate of infection since the pandemic began.

Libya’s National Centre for Disease Control recorded more than 6,000 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the country's overall caseload to about 221,500, the UN children's fund said.

The spike in cases comes as Libya grapples with a political crisis over its planned elections on December 24 amid concerns that a deadlock could cause the North African oil exporter to spiral back into full-scale war.

“We are alarmed at the rapid spread of the virus in the country,” said Unicef's envoy to Libya, Abdulkadir Musse.

Unicef described “terrifying” infection rates which have increased by as much as 480 per cent in southern Libya. The real number of cases is likely to be much higher, given underreporting and a lack of testing kits, the agency said.

The agency has delivered three batches of Covid-19 vaccines to Libya, but officials described “rumours and misinformation” about the injections that have made some Libyans loath to roll up their sleeves.

But even for those looking to be inoculated, vaccines are hard to come by, as the country lacks enough refrigerators to keep shots cold.

“The most important thing we can do to stop the spread of Covid-19, and the variants, is ensure everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated,” said Mr Musse.

The World Health Organisation this month said a surge of coronavirus cases had been observed in Libya, Iran, Iraq and Tunisia and that sharp rises were expected to follow in Lebanon and Morocco.

Libya's new unity government announced on July 8 it was closing its borders with Tunisia for a week owing to the rise in Covid-19 cases in the neighbouring North African country.

Members of the Libyan Red Crescent disinfect a street in the centre of the capital Tripoli on April 1, 2020, as a measure to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease, on April 1, 2020. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

Libyan officials described a “worsening situation and collapsed health system” as well as the presence of the Delta variant in Tunisia.

Libya has been roiled by corruption and chaos since a Nato-backed uprising overthrew and killed long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The country was until recently split between an internationally recognised government in the capital, Tripoli, and a rival authority in the east.

Updated: July 20th 2021, 5:47 PM