Fears mount of healthcare crisis in Syria as regime announces first case of novel coronavirus

Fears mount of healthcare crisis in Syria as regime announces first case of novel coronavirus
The first confirmed case of the novel COVID-19 was announced in Syria on Monday.
3 min read
23 March, 2020
Thousands of people have died from the novel coronavirus worldwide [Getty]
The Syrian regime has announced the first case of the novel coronavirus in the war-torn country, days after starting measures to stem the spread of the pandemic.

Health Minister Nizar Yaziji late on Sunday said authorities had recorded "a first case of the coronavirus in Syria in a person coming from abroad," without specifying the country.

"The appropriate measures have been taken to deal with" the female patient aged around 20, state news agency SANA reported him as telling journalists.

The Syrian regime has over the past week increasingly taken measures to prevent a spread of the deadly virus.

Last week, Damascus postponed parliamentary polls scheduled for next month until further notice.

Authorities have also ordered schools, universities, restaurants, cinemas and events halls to close, and suspended prayer gatherings.

They have also stopped work or downsized staff in government institutions, and transport between provinces is to come to a halt from Tuesday.

Read also: Syria Weekly: Activists claim the regime is embarking on a major coronavirus cover-up

Syria's White Helmets civilian defence force also began taking measures to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus in the northwest of the country.

The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, are sterilising "vital centers and facilities" such as camps, mosques, schools and other place which are regularly frequented, it said Sunday on Twitter.

The civil defence force are known for their rescue efforts in Idlib - which has been subject to heavy Russian and regime bombing.

After nine years of a war that has killed at least 500,000 people and ravaged the country's infrastructure, fears are high that a COVID-19 outbreak in the country would have devastating consequences, especially in areas outside regime control.

The rebel-held and densely-populated province of Idlib in northwest Syria, besieged by regime forces and facing severe shortages of medical supplies and facilities, would suffer the most from an outbreak.

With nearly a million Syrians displaced and in crowded and exposed makeshift camps, the conflict rendered hundreds of thousands vulnerable to the coronavirus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it would begin testing for COVID-19 in opposition northwest Syria last week, Reuters said on Monday.

According to Reuters, only about half of medical facilities in rebel-held Syria are operational.

"We are hoping... to have the machinery and the tests sometime this week so we can start testing," said Dr. Rick Brennan, emergency director for the region, told Reuters. "And we are very concerned. All of the surrounding countries have documented cases."

A WHO spokesman earlier this month warned that Syria's "fragile health systems may not have the capacity to detect and respond" to what is now a pandemic.

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 14,748 people worldwide, while over 341,561 infections have been confirmed.

As of yet, there are no known treatments for the virus, though more than 99,040 have already recovered from the infection.

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