Kuwait’s vaccinating its citizens against Covid-19 at six times the rate of expatriates who make up two-thirds of the population, spurring claims of racism and concerns the discrepancy will delay a return to normal life.
Around 119,000 Kuwaitis and 18,000 expats have been vaccinated, according to the latest data, despite more than half of those registered for a jab being foreign.
Overall, Kuwait has administered 3.7 shots per 100 people for a population of about 4.5 million. That’s a higher rate than in Saudi Arabia but way below neighboring United Arab Emirates on 48 doses per 100 among a mostly expatriate 10 million people.
The disparity in Kuwait’s campaign has triggered an online debate between those nationals defending the policy and outraged expatriates and Kuwaitis who feel the pro-citizen push is flavored by racism.
Although a majority Kuwait’s expats are domestic workers, almost a third are teachers and oil field technicians from the U.S., Great Britain and Germany.
There were signs of a shift on Wednesday, with expat residents of Kuwait saying that more elderly foreigners were seen at inoculation centers.
Officials at the Health Ministry couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Kuwait has said it’s facing a second wave of infections and increased fatalities over the last two weeks.
“The government is taking a political view on this, not an objective health-related view,” said commentator Hamad Al-Jasser, 59, who shares his views with 44,000 Twitter followers. “There’s been a lot of criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis, so they’re under pressure to appease the Kuwaiti population.”
According to the World Health Organization, most countries are making no distinction between citizens and legal foreign residents.
The pandemic and the economic strain from a recent slump in oil prices has prompted measures to reduce the number of foreigners in Kuwait.
An initially slow vaccination program gained momentum with the opening of more inoculation centers and the arrival of doses made by Oxford University/AstraZeneca. Kuwait says it’s prioritizing all frontline workers and those in high-risk groups.
Most of the population should be vaccinated by September, Health Minister Basel Al-Sabah has said. The estimated 850,000 Kuwaiti citizens who want to be inoculated will get their shots within three months, as long as supply isn’t disrupted, he said.
Unlike Kuwait, the UAE has approved use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine alongside the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca shots.