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Where will the next COVID-19 outbreaks be? WHO warns this region is at a ‘critical point’

Experts predict that the delta variant will lead to ‘catastrophic consequences’ in these countries

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A man walks through the closed Tehran’s Grand Bazaar in Iran.

A man walks through the closed Tehran’s Grand Bazaar in Iran on Saturday, April 10, 2021. Iran on Saturday imposed partial lockdown on businesses in major shopping centers as well as intercity travel through personal cars in major cities, including capital Tehran, as it struggles with the worst outbreak of the coronavirus in the Mideast region.

Vahid Salemi, Associated Press

This week, WHO warned of a potential surge in COVID-19 cases in the Middle East and North Africa over the coming weeks. This surge will bring “catastrophic consequences” for the region, the agency said per CNN.

  • Cases have already started to rise in Tunisia, Iran and Libya, per Al Jazeera.
  • A combination of factors — including the delta variant and an upcoming Muslim holiday — could drive the regional surge, reported The Hill.
  • The health care systems in multiple countries are already struggling, per CNN.

The Middle Eastern and North African region has already recorded more than 11.4 million coronavirus cases and more than 223,000 deaths, per Al Jazeera.

What did WHO predict about COVID-19 in the Middle East?

WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office issued the warning on Wednesday. Conditions in the region are edging toward a “critical point,” reported CNN.

  • A “significant increase” in cases is expected in Libya, Iran, Iraq and Tunisia.
  • A “sharp rise” in cases is expected in Lebanon and Morocco.

After recording eight weeks of declining cases and deaths, multiple countries in the region have seen a sudden increase in outbreaks, reported The Hill. The WHO expects these outbreaks to continue and worsen.

Why would cases surge in the Middle East?

According to the WHO, there are four key factors that are expected to drive cases in the Middle East and North Africa over the coming weeks, reported Al Jazeera:

  • Low vaccination rates across the region.

Many countries have struggled to secure a supply of vaccines. Tunisia has only partially vaccinated 13% of its population, reported The Hill. Libya has vaccinated less than 10% of its population, while Iraq has vaccinated less than 1% of its population.

  • The highly contagious delta variant.

Although not yet confirmed, the WHO believes the delta variant is already circulating in 19 of the 22 countries within the region, per The Hill.

  • Lack of adherence to public health measures due to an “increasing complacency” about coronavirus is also expected to drive COVID-19 outbreaks, per Al Jazeera.
  • The upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The holiday that begins on July 20 usually includes religious and social gatherings of substantial size, per Al Jazeera. If people gather without proper precautions, this holiday could accelerate outbreaks.

What is COVID-19 like in the Middle East right now?

Cases have already begun to rise in multiple Middle Eastern and North African countries, reported CNN.

  • Tunisia has become one of the worst-hit Arab countries and now has the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the Middle East and all of Africa, per CNN. The country’s health care sector is facing a “catastrophe” as hospitals are nearing 100% capacity. Tunisia is recording nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases per day, reported The Hill.
  • In Libya, daily cases have “exploded” by more than 400% over recent weeks, per The Hill.

The delta variant is believed to be driving the outbreaks.