The COVID-19 pandemic in the Eastern Mediterranean Region is still “alarming,” a senior official at the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, adding that limited data reporting and underreporting of the actual numbers are posing a challenge.
This week, coronavirus cases identified in the region – which includes Egypt -- rose 10 percent, with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan reporting around 70 percent of these infections, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said on Thursday.
Fatalities caused by the coronavirus in the region increased 13 percent, with Libya, Palestine and Syria reporting the highest rise in deaths, Al-Mandhari said during an online conference held by the regional division of the international body.
This week, the number of people in the region who had recovered from the virus reached 1 million.
But the WHO director said that, even if the situation improves, “we can expect a deterioration at any time.”
“The situation is not stable and may change overnight. There is also a possible seasonality of the disease, which means we may see more cases in September and October,” he said.
During the online meeting, Al-Mandhari tackled questions about whether the virus is airborne, as the organisation has recently updated its guidance on the matter.
Al-Mandhari said airborne transmission of the virus can occur in health care settings where specific medical procedures generate very small aerosols.
“Some reports also suggest the possibility of airborne transmission in indoor crowded spaces,” he said.
Based on current evidence, transmission of COVID-19 primarily occurs from people when they have symptoms, before they develop symptoms, or when they are in close proximity to others, especially for prolonged periods of time.
Al-Mandhari warned that the easing of lockdown measures in some countries is “dramatically increasing” the vulnerability of people across the region
“The reopening of borders brings new risks of imported cases coming to countries that have successfully managed to contain transmission,” he said, adding that seroprevalence studies conducted in the region showed that only a very small portion of the population has been infected, leaving millions more at risk.
He said vulnerable populations in the region like refugees have not yet been significantly affected.
The WHO director called on countries in the region to improve data sharing, adding that “there is a lot of information still missing that affects our ability to assess the real situation.”
“As countries open points of entry, surveillance and screening need to be strengthened, regional and national preparedness and response plans must be adapted to the evolving situation.”
The WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region includes Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the UAE, and Yemen.