War-ravaged Syria records its first COVID-19 death

Most of the medical facilities in the country have been affected due to the decade-long war. Conditions in areas controlled by anti-government forces and in the overcrowded refugee camps are especially bad

March 30, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Syria COVID death
(Photo: Reuters)

Syria reported its first death from the COVID-19 pandemic on March 29, Sunday, when a woman died minutes after being admitted to a hospital in the capital, Damascus.

According to the Syrian health ministry, there are a total of nine cases of COVID-19 in the country. Over 725,000 cases have been reported globally.

Faced with the threat of an outbreak, the Syrian government has imposed a country-wide lockdown and stringent night curfews . It has also closed down universities and mosques, and shut all businesses except for essential supplies. The movement of people and government officials has also been restricted until April 16.

Several government and civil society initiatives are being taken up to tackle the impact of lockdown such as shortage of food supplies, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported. Campaigns to raise awareness and ask people to stay home and to use disinfectants are also being conducted.

Though the government barred the entry of all foreign nationals in the country on March 20, Reuters reported that thousands of Iraqi and Iranian pilgrims are still visiting the shrine of Sayeda Zainab – the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad and the daughter of Ali and Fatimah who is revered by the Shias – in Damascus through land routes via Iraq. This could be a potential source of infection in Syria.

Iran, a close ally of the Syrian government, has reported the highest number of infections and deaths due to COVID-19 in the region (over  38,000 cases and over 2,600 deaths). Iraq has around 550 reported cases.  

Syria’s other neighbors, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, have also reported cases of COVID-19 and have a large number of Syrian refugees (around 6 million) who have been staying there since the outbreak of the war in 2011. Most of the refugee camps in these countries are overcrowded and lack basic amenities and can be hotspots of infection.

The interior ministry in Syria issued an order on Sunday, stating that all Syrian citizens entering the country through Lebanon will be quarantined, SANA reported.  

Though the government is taking precautionary measures in areas under its control and medical infrastructure has been partially restored in some of these areas, including around Damascus, the country is still not ready to face a large number of COVID-19 cases. Medical facilities in other parts of Syria, particularly in the north near the Turkish border and in the areas under the control of the anti-government forces, have been destroyed due to the almost decade-old war.

According to the WHO, Syria has a limited capacity to stop the spread of the virus.

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