Many cash-strapped healthcare systems across the Middle East are struggling to provide testing and care for COVID-19 patients, while countries with the lowest rates of infection began lifting lockdown restrictions this week. According to the World Health Organization there is a total of 175,883 confirmed cases and 7,273 known deaths in the 22 countries that make up the eastern Mediterranean region, or the Middle East and North Africa.

The region as a whole has not flattened the curve, with over 5,000 new cases each day in the last week. 

The highest mortality rates are recorded in Egypt, Sudan and Syria, which are all over 7 percent, yet it is not clear how widespread the virus is after nearly two months of lockdown. Researchers seriously question the veracity of infection data in Egypt.

In Syria where 2 million live on humanitarian assistance, testing is slim and many doubt the accuracy of the official count. There are 43 confirmed cases across the entire country, of which only one comes from the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration. Human Rights Watch has said the Assad government is blocking the transfer of medical supplies and personnel to the region. 

Syrian workers disinfect the Great Umayyad Mosque as a preventive measure amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus, in Damascus, Syria, on March 21, 2020. (Photo: Omar Estwani/APA Images)
Syrian workers disinfect the Great Umayyad Mosque as a preventive measure amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus, in Damascus, Syria, on March 21, 2020. (Photo: Omar Estwani/APA Images)

“Two million people are stuck in northeast Syria without the tools to tackle outbreaks of COVID-19,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement Tuesday. “As the number of infections rise, global and regional leaders should urgently act to allow lifesaving medical supplies and staff to reach those in desperate need of support.”

Most of Syria’s COVID-19 come from Damascus and surrounding suburbs. 

Deserted markets in Damascus, Syria, on March 22, 2020. Even though no cases of coronavirus COVID-19 have been reported in the city at that time, a lockdown was implemented. (Photo: Omar Estwani/APA Images)
Deserted markets in Damascus, Syria, on March 22, 2020. Even though no cases of coronavirus COVID-19 have been reported in the city at that time, a lockdown was implemented. (Photo: Omar Estwani/APA Images)

In Lebanon, measures closing businesses began lifting this week. The easing of restrictions coincided with a return of anti-corruption protests across the country. One protester was killed from injuries sustained during clashes in Tripoli on Monday.

In Lebanon there are 717 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 24 deaths. Reflecting deep economic divides across the country, public hospitals are struggling to keep pace with patient loads while private facilities are stocked. 

A Lebanese protester licks a restaurant window during a protest against growing economic hardship in Beirut, Lebanon April 28, 2020. Hundreds of protesters in Lebanon's northern city of Tripoli set fire to two banks in clashes with soldiers, who responded with tear gas and batons in renewed confrontations triggered by an economic crisis. (Photo: Marwan Bou Haidar/APA Images)
A Lebanese protester kicks a restaurant window during a protest against growing economic hardship in Beirut, Lebanon April 28, 2020. Hundreds of protesters in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli set fire to two banks in clashes with soldiers, who responded with tear gas and batons in renewed confrontations triggered by an economic crisis. (Photo: Marwan Bou Haidar/APA Images)
Lebanese nationals residing in Saudi Arabia, arrive at the Beirut international airport on April 5, 2020. Lebanon started repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus. Lebanese returning home must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport. (Photo: Haitham Al-Mousawi/APA Images)
Lebanese nationals residing in Saudi Arabia, arrive at the Beirut international airport on April 5, 2020. Lebanon started repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus. Lebanese returning home must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport. (Photo: Haitham Al-Mousawi/APA Images)

France 24 reports major discrepancies in stockpiles of medical equipment and testing kits between public and private hospitals in Lebanon, reflecting deep economic divides across the country. 

With the Lebanese government overwhelmed, political parties are filling in the gap, among them most vividly Hizbollah organized teams of medical workers and manned medical checkpoints. 

Lebanese protesters in Beirut, Lebanon, April 23, 2020. (Photo: Haitham Al-Mousawi/APA Images)
Lebanese protesters in Beirut, Lebanon, April 23, 2020. (Photo: Haitham Al-Mousawi/APA Images)

Here are some more images from around the region:

A Sudanese man looks on at posters during awareness campaign about the coronavirus in Jili, Sudan, on March 25, 2020. (Photo: Faiz Abu Bakr/APA Images)
A Sudanese man looks on at posters during awareness campaign about the coronavirus in Jili, Sudan, on March 25, 2020. (Photo: Faiz Abu Bakr/APA Images)
A Iraqi doctor uses a thermometer for a medical examination in Baghdad, Iraq, on March 20, 2020. (Photo: Anas Jomaa/APA Images)
A Iraqi doctor uses a thermometer for a medical examination in Baghdad, Iraq, on March 20, 2020. (Photo: Anas Jomaa/APA Images)
 Closure of a large market as a preventive measure amid fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus disease in the Iraqi city of Dohuk, on March 16, 2020. (Photo: Ismail Adnan/APA Images)
Closure of a large market as a preventive measure amid fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus disease in the Iraqi city of Dohuk, on March 16, 2020. (Photo: Ismail Adnan/APA Images)
 Streets almost deserted during a shelter in place order as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus in Baghdad, Iraq, on April 19, 2020. (Photo: Anas Jomaa/APA Images)
Streets almost deserted during a shelter in place order as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus in Baghdad, Iraq, on April 19, 2020. (Photo: Anas Jomaa/APA Images)
An Iraqi girl wears a mask holding a doll in her hand amid the novel coronavirus pandemic in Baghdad, Iraq, on April 9, 2020. (Photo: Anas Jomaa/APA Images)
An Iraqi girl wears a mask holding a doll in her hand amid the novel coronavirus pandemic in Baghdad, Iraq, on April 9, 2020. (Photo: Anas Jomaa/APA Images)

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