COVID-19: Middle East braces for a second wave escalation

  • Saudis fear coronavirus cases to escalate to 200,000 in weeks.
  • Riyadh extends curfew indefinitely
  • Iran fears the second wave of a global pandemic.
  • The UAE asks countries to take their laborers back.

New Delhi: With both symptomatic and asymptomatic surge in coronavirus cases in China, Japan and South Korea, amid resumption of some economic activity, media reports from the Middle East suggested that the Muslim-dominated region is bracing for a second wave escalation of cases.

Both Saudi Arabia and its principal adversary Iran are preparing for the long haul. While Riyadh is apprehending the infection cases to rise up to 200,000 in coming weeks, Tehran is sitting on a rising second wave, media reports suggested.

Coronavirus in the Middle East.

With Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lifting some restrictions and urging the people of low-risk businesses to reopen, critics have said by relaxing social distancing he has left the Shia nation open to a second wave of Covid-19 outbreak. Soon after his announcement, many flocked to the roads, violating restrictions and jamming traffic at many places.

Tehran City Council Chairman Ali Maher, who is also the planning deputy of the city coronavirus task force, warned that the reopening of business might lead to “a second wave of coronavirus”.

Nearly 7 million Iranians had been rendered jobless due to these restrictions imposed in March. These restrictions are set to end on April 18. A third of the country’s 84 million population is facing economic and health problems due to the US sanctions and COVID-19.

Officially, the pandemic has affected 3.3 million employees through dismissal, suspension or reduction of wages and another 4 million self-employed feeling the impact. In an unprecedented step, trade union leaders have rejected a proposed 21% increase in the minimum wage, as against the current 40% inflation rate. Even ministers are lining their pockets by charging an exorbitant 12% interest on individual loans they were allegedly foisting on others.

The health ministry informed on Sunday that a total of 4,474 Iranians had died so far and 71,686 were infected.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia indefinitely extended curfew on Sunday amid a surge in new infections while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) warned of possible action against countries refusing to take their migrant labourers back. Arabia, which imposed strict restrictions against violators of curfew, recorded 4,462 infections with 59 deaths, the highest among the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, where the total neared 14,100 with 96 deaths. It expects it could reach 200,000 cases in coming weeks and has halted international passenger flights, suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage, and closed most public places.

The UAE has the second highest regional toll at 3,736 cases and 20 deaths.

Other Gulf Arab states have taken similar precautions and seen the virus spread among low-wage foreign workers, many living in overcrowded accommodation. Millions of migrant labourers, mainly from Asian countries, including Nepal, India and the Philippines, are among the region’s large expatriate population.

The UAE warned it would review labour ties with countries refusing to take back citizens, including those who lost their jobs or were put on leave, and said it was considering strict quotas for work visas issued to nationals of those states.

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