Second wave feared after Middle East eases coronavirus lockdown measures

Second wave feared after Middle East eases coronavirus lockdown measures
Iran, Israel and Turkey have all seen cases surge after coronavirus lockdown measures were eased in an attempt to kickstart the economy.
4 min read
16 June, 2020
Iranian and Turkish officials have blamed the spike on poor social distancing efforts [Getty]
Fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections have swept the Middle East amid a spike in new cases and deaths over the past week.

A rise in new cases in several major nations in the region highlights the difficult balance between kickstarting the economy and preventing further deaths from the Covid-19 disease.

Israel's Head of Public Health Services on warned on Tuesday of a much-feared second wave of cases, as local media reported a new outbreak in a Tel Aviv hospital.

"It pains me to inform you that the virus is coming back," said Dr. Sigal Sadetzki. "We are seeing a clear correlation between the reopening of the economy and the increased infection rate."

Across the country, Israeli authorities are witnessing an increase in cases, particularly among children who usually act as asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus.

The migrant and asylum seeker community of south Tel Aviv has also seen a spike in new cases, Haaretz reported.

Just 302 people have died from the Covid-19 disease in Israel. Analysts put that lower toll down to the early imposition of lockdown measures and strict border controls.

But as Israel's economy reopens, cases are again on the rise and it remains to be seen whether the unity government will be persuaded to reimpose containment measures to halt a potentially deadly second wave.

Authorities point to lack of social distancing

In Iran - home to the region's deadliest coronavirus outbreak - authorities have already reimposed lockdown measures in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan amid a rise in cases last month.

On Monday, government spokesman Ali Rabiei warned the Islamic Republic might have to reimpose strict containment measures across the country, bemoaning a lack of social distancing.

Iran has reported more than 100 coronavirus-linked deaths for three days in a row as of Tuesday - levels not seen since mid-April.

New reported infections have also been on the rise, with more than 3,000 cases per day over the last week.

Ten of Iran's 31 provinces are now listed as "red", the highest level on the government's coronavirus risk scale, double the number of Monday.

Authorities first began easing lockdown measures in mid-April, although some restrictions remained in place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which took place during April and May.

As of the end of the holiday, however, restaurants, cafes and mosques have reopened, and images of the Tehran metro show the public transport system heaving with people.

In neighbouring Turkey, new reported infections are also on the rise. 

Although Ankara took a slightly different approach - imposing age-restricted quarantines and weekend curfews in some provinces rather than a nationwide lockdown. It similarly eased containment measures last month in a bid to restart the battered economy.
[Click to enlarge]

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca has frequently decried a lack of social distancing on the streets as bars, gyms, cafes restaurants and beaches reopen. 

The number of reported Covid-19 cases in Turkey rose for a fifth day in a row on Tuesday after a long downward trend during the month of Ramadan.

As elsewhere in the world, the lifting of containment measures comes despite the warning of top medics.

"We are looking for a scientific basis for nearly all the measures that are being eased, but we cannot find any," a member of the coronavirus research team at the Turkish Medics Association said last week. "We find it odd that in a pandemic where we lost nearly 5,000 citizens, there is an effort to find a success story."

The increase in cases comes as Turkey reopens for international tourism, seen as a vital lifeline for the economy.

A similar trend has been witnessed elsewhere in the region. 

Saudi authorities on Tuesday reported a record number of new coronavirus infections, with a government spokesperson blaming the spike on the public failing to adhere to social distancing regulations.

Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay connected