Coronavirus’s spread through the Middle East could add another layer of woes to a region already plagued by problems.
In the Levant, the virus could take root in one of the refugee camps that speckle the landscape. The camps are densely populated and already suffer from poor living conditions, scant medical attention and decaying infrastructure.
Economic crises in countries like Lebanon, where the health sector has already warned that it is on the brink of collapse, or Syria, could mean that millions are defenseless in the face of pathogen.
In Iran, the outbreak is the worst in the region, and it has intensified the country’s isolation. Viewed as a regional breeding ground for the virus, Iran is being sealed off from its neighbors, further crippling an economy already buckling under US sanctions.
The country’s rift from the rest of the region is becoming more pronounced. Land borders with neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan have been closed. Numerous flights to Iranian cities have been suspended.
The country’s officials are seething. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned the virus could be used as a “weapon” in “propaganda” by “Iran’s enemies.” The Iranian leader has refused to quarantine cities in a bid, he said, not to further stifle the economy.
Symbolically, the country’s deputy health minister, Iran Harirchi, tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday — just 24 hours after a press briefing where he tried to downplay the threat of the virus.
Rich Arab Gulf countries – such as the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait — that have confirmed cases of novel coronavirus may have the wherewithal to stem the tide of the sickness. But most countries in the region are running on fumes.
Between trying to keep the virus at bay, and stemming the economic toll brought on by panic about its spread, they are between a rock and a hard place. They see that even the advanced countries of Europe have failed to outrace the virus. So they live on a prayer that the coronavirus tidal wave veers in another direction.