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In the news: Syria announces first coronavirus death

The Syrian government has reported 10 cases of COVID-19. Many fear the virus could spread quickly in a country already battered by war.

An aid worker shows a child how to put on a protective mask
An aid worker from the Syrian NGO Ataa Relief shows a child at an Idlib camp how to put on a protective mask. (Muhammad al Hosse/TNH)

Syria reported its first official death from COVID-19 on Sunday, as different parts of the country struggle to prepare for the spread of the virus that has killed more than 35,000 people worldwide.

The state news agency said a woman who died shortly after being taken to hospital for emergency treatment had tested positive for COVID-19. It brought reported cases in Syria to 10, although widespread testing hasn’t been carried out in most of the country.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government has instituted a lockdown in parts of the country it controls, and says it is disinfecting streets and buildings. Other areas of Syria – including the Kurdish-run northeast and the rebel-held northwest – are also trying to prepare for the pandemic, as schools are shut and curfews put into place. Aid agencies and NGOs are trying to acquire and bring in much-needed medical supplies, identifying hospitals that could isolate patients, and adjusting aid deliveries to make sure they don’t encourage public gatherings.

While there have been no confirmed cases in the northwest, where a government-led offensive displaced nearly a million people until a truce was brokered in early March, residents and aid workers have expressed fear about the potential arrival of COVID-19. Many people in and around Idlib province are sheltering in crowded conditions, including informal camps where access to clean water is not always a given, and “social distancing” is nearly impossible.

Read more → Bracing for coronavirus in Syria’s battered northwest

In the northeast, there is particular concern about the dangers of a possible outbreak at al-Hol camp, where nearly 70,000 people live in extremely close quarters, including both members of the so-called Islamic State and people who fled the group.

– Annie Slemrod

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