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Persian Gulf’s Migrant Lockdown Risks a ‘Wildfire’ Coronavirus Outbreak

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:49 PM
Joseph Young
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:49 PM
  • Tens of thousands of locked down migrant workers in overcrowded conditions risks a serious of coronavirus outbreak.
  • A researcher at the Human Rights Watch organization has warned of a potential wildfire-esque virus spread.
  • The implementation of strong safety precautions is critical in the short-term.

Qatar has reportedly placed tens of thousands of migrant workers in crowded camps, part of its lockdown measure . The lockdown of workers comes after many coronavirus cases were reported in an industrial zone that houses many migrant employees.

With the average basic reproductive number (R0) of coronavirus estimated to be 2.2 to 2.7 by a study released by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , the dire situation in Qatar poses an actual risk of a coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.

The study read:

Initial estimates of the early dynamics of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, suggested a doubling time of the number of infected persons of 6–7 days and a basic reproductive number (R0) of 2.2–2.7. We collected extensive individual case reports across China and estimated key epidemiologic parameters, including the incubation period.

Safe precautions must be taken to stop the coronavirus outbreak

While studies suggest that that average R0 of coronavirus is under 3, several studies in Asia, including South Korea, have found that the R0 could reach 12 in areas with no strong precautionary measures.

That means, when one person gets infected by coronavirus, it can infect 12 more people, the 12 people can then affect 144, and so on.

Hiba Zayadin, a researcher at the Human Rights Watch, said that if coronavirus starts to spread in camps like the one in Qatar, it could spread like wildfire. 

The researcher emphasized that all countries in the Middle East, not just Qatar, should work toward containing coronavirus. Specifically, Zayadin said that the potential spread of the virus  in industrial zones have to be avoided.

One oil worker in Qatar paints a harrowing picture of overcrowded camps to the New York Times . The individual, who asked for anonymity, said that even basic safety precautions such as washing hands is “almost unrealistic.”

Considering that the R0—or the rate coronavirus spreads—largely depends on the conditions of an area, there are severe concerns that the Middle East could see an outbreak in the immediate-term if stronger precautions are not imposed. 

Countries in the Middle East see low coronavirus cases, for now, | Source: worldometers.info

Middle East’s containment is key to virus treatment.

Many scientists have consistently said since late February that heat could weaken the strength of coronavirus. 

The theory explains the relatively low number of coronavirus cases  in India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Thailand, despite data showing that thousands of travelers from Wuhan traveled to other parts of Asia earlier this year.

Currently, Qatar has 3,231 confirmed cases, and is running 17,642 tests per 1 million individuals. The testing capacity of Qatar ranks highly among other countries.

UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait have recorded 4,521, 4,934, and 1,355 coronavirus cases, respectively, which is lower than most European and Asian countries.

If the Middle East is able to contain coronavirus successfully as it has done since February, it could potentially prove that the summer season could be critical in combating coronavirus.

To prevent a large-scale outbreak in the Middle East and to protect tens of thousands of foreign workers,  it is crucial that necessary precautions recommended by countries at the forefront of coronavirus treatment such as South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan are implemented.