Syriaʹs crisis within a crisis – coronavirus could hit hard

The corona pandemic has reached Syria. Anna Fleischer explains why the virus could hit the country extremely hard and above all endanger those imprisoned

These days, virtually every country in the world is drafting contingency plans as governments implement measures to protect their population from the further spread of the coronavirus. It was only the Assad regime that until a few days ago was still denying the existence of a single case of the virus in Syria. The official news agency SANA even reported that the WHO had confirmed this.

On 22 March, however, the denials came to an end as the Minister of Health publicly announced the first case. The regime said that it would close the border with Lebanon, even to returning Syrian nationals, as of 23 March. Goods traffic will continue, using drivers who will be subject to medical checks.

There are reasons to doubt that Syria, of all countries, has been spared the spread of the virus. The Assad regime is backed by tens of thousands of Iranian fighters, and Iran is the most severely affected country in the region, with over 20,000 cases of coronavirus and 1,550 dead. What's more, Pakistani authorities reported that the country's first cases were six fighters from the Zeinabiyoun Brigade who had just returned from territories held by the Syrian regime.

Dysfunctional health system

What gives cause for alarm here is the desolate state of the Syrian health-care system. According to the United Nations, up to 70% of health workers have left Syria, and at the end of last year only 64% of hospitals and 52% of primary health-care centres in the country were fully operational. Syria is therefore particularly ill-prepared to face a pandemic.

World Health Organisation logo – WHO (photo: AP)
Civil war and pandemic: the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that the "fragile health system" in Syria is unlikely to be able to cope with the corona pandemic

According to Layla Hasso from the Syrian children's rights network Hurras, Syria has at its disposal 200 beds in intensive care units with respirators in areas not controlled by the regime. However, these beds are already occupied by patients with other conditions.

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