COVID-19 in the Middle East
It's high summer and coronavirus has never been stronger

Heat will kill coronavirus – that was the official line at the start of the pandemic. But this is not the case. Infection rates are currently on the rise, even in the world’s hottest regions. Birgit Svensson reports from Baghdad

Everyone was waiting for the heat. High temperatures will stifle the virus, we were told during the initial months as coronavirus swept around the world. We were told that the pathogens primarily spread in cold weather, similar to a flu virus. The commonly-held view in February and March was that things would be better in the summer.

Even the German virologist Alexander Kekule believed that the number of corona infections would fall during the summer months. Others were more sceptical, saying only that there were still no "reliable findings".

It was a wonderful idea: during the cooler and therefore more infectious season we all behaved sensibly; now in summer, as we enjoy the well-earned lockdown relaxation with a clear conscience, Mother Nature plays her part – and the coronavirus is as good as gone. The certainty grew that the hottest parts of the world would not be hard-hit by the virus.

In the Middle East above all, people quipped that in the summer, all you’d need to do is stand out on the street in the sun and open your mouth to kill COVID-19. With temperatures of 50 degrees and more in the shade, it was a dead cert. Experts advised washing face coverings at 60 degrees to kill the virus present in the mask. So, plenty of reasons to be hopeful in desert nations where temperatures like these are the norm.

Egyptian coronavirus figures should be greeted with caution

But all this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Infection rates are soaring at the present time – in hot countries too. Iran is currently experiencing a second wave that is no less dramatic than the first. Corona is also darkening Africa’s door right now. Although Egypt’s health ministry claims a daily new infection rate of between just 200 and 300 and an overall death toll to date of 5,197 (as of 20.8).

One man pushes another in a wheelchair down a street in Iraq (photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo/H. Mizban)
Empty streets in Baghdad: although Iraq has been in a permanent lockdown since mid-March and strict curfews have been imposed in some places, the numbers are rising dramatically, writes Birgit Svensson. With a maximum temperature of 51 degrees in the shade, which was measured in Baghdad at the beginning of August, the air conditioning systems are running at full speed. According to medical experts, the risk of infection increases the more people stay indoors, hence the rising number of cases

But these figures should be greeted with caution. Anyone questioning their veracity risks being sent to prison for spreading fake news. The nation on the Nile is currently doing everything possible to win back the tourists that are the country’s lifeblood and key to the survival of the jobs market. Meanwhile the Egyptian doctors’ association isn’t beating around the bush – it is going public with some actual figures, although these are concentrated on the medical sector alone.

President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s iron fist is merciless and doesn’t even spare doctors. Doctors’ association chairman Ibrahim al-Zayat says 152 doctors have died of COVID-19 in Egypt and that more than 3,000 medical staff have been infected. He says that figure constitutes 7 percent of the nation’s total medical personnel.

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