The new wave of coronavirus, carried in the Arab world by the Delta variant, is all the more worrying as the degree of vaccination remains very uneven there.

A gymnasium transformed into a resuscitation center, in the Tunisian city of Kairouan (Fethi Belaid, AFP)

July 17 opened the period of the hajj which, before the coronavirus pandemic, attracted each year to Mecca 2.5 million pilgrims, very largely foreigners. Only 60,000 vaccinated Saudis will be authorized this year to perform the hajj, compared to the few thousand pilgrims symbolically admitted in 2020. This very relative progression illustrates how far the Arab world is from a return to normal, while the new wave of the pandemic , carried by the Delta variant, spares virtually no country. Such a relaunch of the health crisis is aggravating the factors of tension everywhere, whether it is a question of vulnerable economies, which are even more fragile, or repression of protest, which is even more accentuated.

THE TUNISIAN NIGHTMARE

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Tunisia holds, with “ more than a hundred deaths per day “For 12 million inhabitants, the sad record for the highest mortality rate due to Covid-19 in the Arab world, as well as on the African continent. The Delta variant is responsible for nearly half of the contaminations, to the point that the Ministry of Health qualifies the situation as “Catastrophic”. With only 5% of the population vaccinated (at two doses) and a saturation of resuscitation beds, Tunisia fears seeing its health system outright “Collapse”. The mobilization of the Tunisian diaspora is only more than intense, in particular for the sending of oxygen concentrators. But the correspondent of “World” in Tunis underlines ” general mistrust of institutions ” which drives these civil society initiatives, against a backdrop of political deadlock at the top.

Libya has closed its borders with Tunisia and suspended flights between the two countries. As for Algeria, it showed its solidarity with Tunisia by sending it, on July 13, 250,000 doses of vaccines and 20 tonnes of medical equipment first need. In Algeria itself, the regime has largely taken advantage of the pandemic to stifle popular protest against Hirak, whose demonstrations, suspended from March 2020 to February 2021, have been banned again since last May. But the authorities are careful not to reveal the real vaccination rate of 44 million Algerians, which would be lower than that of Tunisia, while affirming that they will receive ” three million doses per month “ starting this summer. On the other hand, Morocco, leader of the African continent in terms of vaccination, with 26% of its 37 million inhabitants having received the two doses, launched, since July 5, the local production of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm. The set objective of ” five million doses per month, short term Allows Rabat to no longer depend on vaccines produced in India, which had refused to honor its orders.

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MIDDLE EAST TENSIONS

The countries which were already weakened in the Middle East are suffering the full brunt of the shock of the Delta variant. Lebanon, where the absence of a government for nearly a year is accelerating an unprecedented economic bankruptcy, is experiencing for ten days a doubling of daily contaminations, mainly due to the Delta variant. Iraq, where less than 1% of the population is vaccinated, has just recorded both the first cases of this variant and its highest rate of daily contaminations. On two occasions, in Baghdad in April (82 dead) and in Nassiriya in July (92 dead), the explosion of oxygen cylinders in hospitals treating coronavirus patients caused deadly fires. In the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, the state of emergency has been extended due to the Delta variant. 8.5% of the population is vaccinated, compared to 58% in Israel. The Palestinian Authority, which manages 40% of the West Bank, had accepted from Israel, on June 18, the transfer of one million doses of vaccine, to be returned on orders received in the fall. But this transfer was finally refused after the revelations of the opponent Nizar Banat on the very close expiry date of the vaccines and the ” corruption “ which surrounded, according to him, such an agreement. Banat, arrested on June 24, died an hour later, his family accusing the Palestinian Authority of having him “Tortured” to death.

The Delta variant even accentuated underlying tensions between seemingly aligned countries. The United Arab Emirates, yet leaders in the Arab world in terms of vaccination, with a rate of 69%, attribute to this variant a third of their new cases. This was enough to convince Saudi Arabia, until then a privileged ally of the Emirates, to suspend air links with this country, casting a shadow over the World Expo scheduled in Dubai this fall. As for Egypt, its Minister of Health again affirmed, on July 3, that no case linked to the Delta variant had been recorded among its 102 million compatriots. With only 1.2% of the population vaccinated, Cairo is putting an end to local production of Chinese-designed vaccines. In general, throughout the Arab world, health specialists fear that the celebration of Grand Eid, or “Feast of the Sacrifice”, after the hajj and from July 20, will encourage the spread of the variant. Delta and, therefore, the relaunch of the pandemic.

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