Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, no country has been spared from the spread of the virus. This includes the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, although there has been significant variation within MENA as to when initial cases were observed, how rapidly the virus spread, and the intensity of both initial outbreaks and subsequent waves. The graph below tracks cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 relative to the total population in MENA countries between March 2020 and December 2022.
Initial outbreaks in the region focused on the Gulf region, reflecting its connectivity to the wider global economy and travel between Iran and the smaller Gulf states following an early surge of COVID-19 cases in Iran. Confirmed cases as a share of the total population were highest in Bahrain, followed by other small Gulf states like Kuwait and Qatar. Confirmed cases would eventually surge in Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, and Tunisia, as public health measures were eased and as testing capacity grew. Notably, low rates of confirmed COVID-19 infections in fragile states like Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen reflect the limited capacity for tracking the disease. Similar low rates in Algeria and Egypt suggest a serious undercounting of viral cases due to limited testing and tracing efforts.