World, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Conflict zones must address coronavirus: Red Cross

Head of International Committee of Red Cross warns of devastation unless urgent humanitarian action taken in war zones

Peter Kenny   | 30.03.2020
Conflict zones must address coronavirus: Red Cross

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GENEVA

Citing conflict-riven countries such as Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan, the Red Cross warned Monday that it will be nearly impossible to fight COVID-19 in these countries without an immediate response by states and humanitarian organizations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement by its Geneva headquarters that COVID-19 has overwhelmed advanced health care systems.

“Warfare has not stopped because of the virus, and victims of conflict still need and deserve assistance,” said the Red Cross, noting that many of the places where it works lack even basic health care infrastructure, let alone intensive care capacity.

“Our fear is that unless urgent action is taken to curb the spread of the virus, it will devastate some of the world’s most vulnerable communities,” said Peter Maurer, the head of the ICRC.

The Red Cross said plans to prevent and respond to the virus must urgently move forward “before it gains a foothold in conflict zones”.

If that is not done, it will be nearly impossible to fight COVID-19 in such countries unless a concerted response by states and humanitarian organizations is launched immediately.

The ICRC noted that the novel coronavirus represents a significant threat to life in countries with strong health systems.

“But the threat is even greater in places where health systems have been ravaged by war, where people uprooted by conflict live in close proximity, and where life-saving resources like clean water, soap, and medicine are in short supply,” it said.

“The ICRC fears the worst for people in prisons and displacement camps around the world. Health systems in conflict zones in places such as Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, and Afghanistan are simply not prepared to handle a flood of COVID-19 cases without a surge in support,” said the statement.

The Red Cross said that COVID-19 does not have to be catastrophic for war-torn countries with weakened healthcare systems, but it does require the international community to scale up support.

It said that in displacement camps, physical distancing is not possible, and the ICRC fears it will be impossible to stop the spread of coronavirus once it enters a camp.

“Indeed, we fear the virus will spread rapidly and viciously, straining the medical response. Containment will be difficult, as it is harder to trace and isolate suspected cases when people flee their homes due to violence.”

The reported cases in the countries mentioned are currently low.

Afghanistan currently has 120 confirmed cases and four deaths; Nigeria 111 cases, with one fatality; Syria with nine cases and one death; while Yemen has no registered case, according to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

South Sudan, which also has a fragile health system like Yemen has no reported case so far.

The coronavirus known as COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China last December and has spread to at least 177 countries and territories. The World Health organization declared the outbreak a pandemic.

The number of confirmed cases worldwide is nearing 738,000, while the death toll has surpassed 35,000, and over 156,500 have recovered so far, according to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the rising number of cases, most who become infected suffer only mild symptoms and recover.


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