Omicron: Middle Eastern countries are preparing for the new coronavirus variant | Middle East | News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW


This week, most of the Middle Eastern countries have responded in one way or another to the new variant of the Omicron coronavirus.

So far, only Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have recorded infections with omicrons. But amid concerns over omicrons, Lebanese health officials have just announced a nightly curfew for those who haven’t been vaccinated or who don’t have a recent negative PCR test, beginning Dec. 17.

For three weeks, people in these categories are not allowed to leave their homes between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. The planned penalties for violating the rules will be announced.

Health Minister Firass Abiad said during a press conference Wednesday that “the new measures are aimed at limiting socializing as Lebanese expatriates flood their homes for the holiday season.”

While no Omicron case has been recorded in Lebanon, COVID-19 infections soared in the country after Christmas last year, bringing the health system to the brink of collapse.

Saudi Arabia was the second country in the Middle East, after Israel, to confirm a case of the Omicron variant

Travel restrictions

After the discovery of the new Omicron variant in South Africa, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia suspended air traffic with up to two dozen African countries, including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho and Eswatini.

Morocco and Israel have even suspended all incoming international commercial flights for the next two weeks.

Airplane on tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport

Israel Ben Gurion Airport is closed to all incoming international commercial flights

While the imposition of travel restrictions to protect the population has become a regular response for many countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that “blanket travel bans will not prevent international expansion and will put a heavy burden on life and livelihood.”

International vaccination diplomacy

This is because international actors have increasingly focused on vaccine diplomacy this year in the Middle East as well, with poorer countries still being hit hard by the fact that so far only 13% of the doses of COVAX – the program used to deliver vaccines was intended – were contracted to the weakest people in the world – were delivered.

Vaccine diplomacy refers to the use of vaccine supplies as a tool to project soft power.

“China and Russia have stepped up their efforts in vaccine diplomacy in the region,” said Professor Eckart Woertz, Director of Middle East Studies at the Hamburg German Institute for Global and Regional Studies (GIGA), of DW on the phone.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi already celebrated a new joint venture for vaccine production in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) between the China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation (CNPGC), commonly known as Sinopharm, and the Emirati Group 42 (often abbreviated as G42) last March. .

The two companies plan to produce up to 200 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine per year in the United Arab Emirates.

“Morocco and the United Arab Emirates are both trying to establish their countries as regional Sinopharm hubs,” Woertz told DW.

Morocco signed a contract with Sinopharm earlier this year and “hopes to develop into a hub for the distribution of vaccines for West Africa,” wrote Woertz and co-author Roie Yellinek in a paper in March 2021.

Boxes of Sinopharm vaccines

The Sinopharm vaccine is already widely used in Iran

Russia, on the other hand, has already signed an agreement with Egypt.

The idea behind this is that Egypt should become the main distributor for North Africa with new production facilities for the Russian Sputnik vaccine.

Regional vaccination diplomacy

A second, equally important aspect of vaccine diplomacy is domestic policy.

“Successful vaccinations can strengthen the position of ailing incumbents like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and King Mohammed VI of Morocco,” Woertz wrote in March, before Naftali Bennett succeeded Prime Minister to Netanyahu minister.

However, since the new coronavirus variant will not be the last, it is very likely that vaccine diplomacy will continue to accelerate in the near future.

“While the new Omicron variant is far too new to analyze its political reach, it is safe to say that vaccine diplomacy has been and will remain in the political dictionary,” Woertz told DW.

Edited by: Timothy Jones


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