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COVID-19: UN reiterates deep concern for Syria, Libya

UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 'particularly concerned' about potential impact of virus in NW Syria

Peter Kenny   | 27.03.2020
COVID-19: UN reiterates deep concern for Syria, Libya

GENEVA

The UN on Friday reiterated its deep concern about the potential impact of COVID-19 on millions of people across Syria, especially in the country's northwestern region and also on Libya, embroiled in conflict as well.

Jens Laerke, the spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), addressed journalists at a virtual briefing, noting the concern for the displaced people in northwestern Syria.

His comments came three days after the UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen appealed for a "complete, immediate, nationwide" cease-fire in Syria to enable all-out efforts to suppress the novel coronavirus in the war-torn country.

"The UN is deeply concerned about the potential impact of COVID-19 on millions of people across Syria, in particular the over 900,000 people that remain displaced in the northwest," Laerke said.

"Overcrowding makes them especially vulnerable, and they also face physical and mental stress and deprivation due to a lack of housing, food, and clean water," he added.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported five cases of COVID-19 in Syria where the war is now nine years old, but there is no information on fatalities due to the virus.

The OCHA said there are currently over 6 million internally displaced people throughout Syria.

"Health preparedness and response in the country is considered low. Only half of public hospitals and public primary healthcare centers were fully functional at the end of 2019. Thousands of health professionals have also left the country," Laerke noted.

Turning to Libya, also engrossed in a conflict involving its own people, he said the UN is supporting authorities in the country for COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts.

"In Libya, the UN fears that a possible outbreak would overwhelm the already stretched humanitarian aid capacity," he stressed.

The OCHA spokesman added that additional funding is urgently required to implement the national and UN health sector's response plans.

"The UN is also alarmed that hostilities have continued in and around [the capital] Tripoli despite the announced humanitarian pause," said Laerke.

The WHO reported only one COVID-19 case in Libya.

"In countries like Libya, where the security situation is so difficult, the potential is really horrendous," said UN human rights office (UNHCHR) spokesman Rupert Colville at the press briefing.

"If COVID-19 gets into crowded detention centers, it could be catastrophic for the population in those places," where it is so hard for medical services to function, he said.

UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said: "Right now, in Libya, there are no cases nor suspected cases of refugees infected by COVID-19."

After first appearing in Wuhan, China, in December, the virus, has spread to at least 176 countries and regions, and the WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic.

According to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University, more than 553,200 cases have been reported worldwide, with the death toll over 25,000, and over 127,500 recoveries.

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