Libya reports first coronavirus case as fighting continues

Libya reports first coronavirus case as fighting continues
Libyan officials announced the country's first coronavirus case, another blow to the war-torn North African nation and its already fragile healthcare system.
2 min read
25 March, 2020
Heavy shelling took place in Tripoli after Libya's first coronavirus case was announced [Getty]
Libya reported its first case of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, according to the country's National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), prompting fears of a major outbreak that the country's debilitated healthcare system may be unable to handle.

The patient, a 73-year-old man from the capital Tripoli, was taken ill with a fever and respiratory problems after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia on 5 March, NCDC Director General Badr Al-Din Al-Najjar said in a statement. The man is currently in hospital.

After the coronavirus case was announced, social media users reported Tripoli was shaken by heavy shelling, a stark reminder of the humanitarian ceasefires that Libya's warring factions touted, yet failed to uphold, in the wake of the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said forces affiliated with the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) reportedly shelled the Tripoli neighbourhood of Ain Zara.

"In the past 48 hours, UNSMIL documented more than 13 violations of the humanitarian pause, which resulted in the killing of at least three civilians and injuries to others," UNSMIL envoy Stephanie Williams stated.

"The continuation of the fighting risks an undetected and out-of-control spread of the COVID-19," she added.

Both the Tripoli-based internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and the eastern-based LNA previously implemented coronavirus prevention measures in their territories, including curfews, travel restrictions and disinfection operations. The NCDC has been able to operate in both areas.

Prior to Libya's first case, the possibility of COVID-19's presence in the country has raised concerns. Libya's health care system, weakened by the ongoing conflict, is vulnerable to being overpowered by an outbreak.

"This is a health system that was close to collapse before you get the coronavirus," Elizabeth Hoff, head of mission for the World Health Organization in Libya, told Reuters.

Libya is divided between forces loyal to the GNA and those of Khalifa Haftar, a rogue military commander who backs a rival administration in the country's east.

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