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A Palestinian medical team transports the body of person who died of the COVID-19 disease from the military hospital in the West Bank city of Nablus, on July 9, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: The novel coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 20,000 people across the Middle East, half of them in Iran, according to an AFP tally at 1000 GMT Sunday based on official tolls.

But despite having 907,736 reported infections and 20,005 deaths from the COVID-19 illness, the Middle East has been relatively lightly hit by the virus which has killed over half a million people across the globe.

Iran, which has been struggling to contain the outbreak since announcing its first cases in February, has reported more than 12,829 deaths and 257,303 infections, according to Sunday’s official figures.

With a population of more than 80 million, Iran is the 9th worst-affected country in the world and has seen the region’s deadliest outbreak.

Infections in the Islamic republic have been on the rise since early May, prompting authorities to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces.

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People on a metro in Tehran, Iran. Infections in the Islamic republic have been on the rise since early May, prompting authorities to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces.

On Sunday the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the resurgence “truly tragic” and urged all citizens to help rein it in.

In the region covered by Iran in the north and east, Israel in the west and Yemen in the south, the other worst-hit countries are Iraq and neighbouring Kuwait, regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and war-torn Yemen.

Iraq is the second-most affected nation in the Middle East with 3,055 deaths and 75,194 infections, followed by Saudi Arabia with 2,181 deaths and 229,480 infections.

Yemen, one of the world’s poorest nations, has recorded 464 deaths and 1,380 infections, while Kuwait has confirmed 386 deaths and 54,058 infections.

Iran also ranks as the region’s worst-affect country on a per-capita basis, with 153 deaths per million - 25th worldwide - followed by Kuwait with 90 deaths per million and Saudi Arabia with 63.

According to the AFP tally, the average number of deaths in the region is 43 per million inhabitants, against a global average of around 70.

The Middle East represents around 3.5 percent of all global deaths, far behind Europe (one third), North America (one quarter) and Latin America and the Caribbean (one quarter).