SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 24 June 2021, Thursday |

WHO Warns Eastern Mediterranean Countries against Easing COVID-19 Restrictions

While the total number of cases has declined over the past 6 weeks and the number of deaths stabilized, 9 countries reported an increase in cases last week, compared to the previous week. These include Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan, who reported the highest increase in cases. Eleven countries reported an increase in deaths last week, with the highest numbers reported from Sudan, Afghanistan and Morocco.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) has warned against taking Europe as an example and easing coronavirus restrictions, stressing instead the importance of wearing masks in public places and complying with social distancing measures.

Rana Hajjeh, Director of Program Management at the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, said the extensive COVID-19 vaccination drive launched in European region has allowed them to ease restrictions.

However, as of June 8, the Eastern Mediterranean region has reported more than 10 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 206,000 deaths.

Speaking at a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Hajjeh said the population in the region’s 22 countries has received 70 million COVID-19 doses, including 13 million through COVAX.

The WHO is targeting 300 million doses by the end of 2021, or the vaccination of 30 percent of the population, she explained.

Currently, less than 10 percent of people living in the Eastern Mediterranean have received at least one shot, she said, noting that only two countries have achieved a high first dose inoculation rate of over 50 percent.

While the total number of infections has declined in the past six weeks and the number of deaths stabilized, nine countries reported an increase in cases last week, compared to the previous one.

These include Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan, which have reported the highest increase. Eleven countries reported an increase in deaths last week, with the highest numbers reported in Sudan, Afghanistan and Morocco.

Variants of concern (VOC) continue to circulate across the region, she added.

“To date, 17 countries have officially reported the detection of the VOC Alpha, 10 countries have reported the VOC Beta, three countries have officially reported the detection of the VOC Gamma, and six countries have reported the VOC Delta,” Hajjeh stated.

Vaccines that are being rolled out across the region are also effective against new variants, she noted.

According to Hajjeh, “vaccine hesitancy is a key challenge preventing us from reaching our goal of vaccinating 30 percent of the population in all countries by the end of the year.”

Despite the rumors, the WHO knows that vaccines are safe and prevent severe infection, hospitalization and death.

“Ensuring the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines is one of WHO’s highest priorities. This applies to all six vaccines that have now received WHO emergency use listing.”

She further pointed out that there is currently no data on the immunogenicity or efficacy of a “mix and match” regimen of vaccines.

“COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for emergency use by WHO have only been assessed as single product regimens and we cannot therefore support combination vaccinations until more evidence becomes available,” she explained.