Middle East, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

Known COVID-19 cases 'tip of iceberg' in Syria: UN

With battered hospitals and refugee flows, Syria is ill-prepared for major outbreak

James Reinl   | 30.03.2020
Known COVID-19 cases 'tip of iceberg' in Syria: UN


The ten confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in Syria are just the “tip of the iceberg” of an outbreak that could have a “devastating impact” on the war-ravaged country, UN aid chief Mark Lowcock warned on Monday.

Addressing a virtual UN Security Council meeting, Lowcock, the under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said the known cases in Syria, including one confirmed death, were likely an undercount.

“Judging from other places, that is the tip of the iceberg. The virus has the potential to have a devastating impact on vulnerable communities across the country,” Lowcock told council members during an online meeting amid New York’s own coronavirus outbreak.

“Syria’s health services are extremely fragile. Only around half of its hospitals and primary healthcare centers were fully functional at the end of last year.”

Lowcock’s concerns were echoed by Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special peace envoy to Syria, who said that nine years of fighting between government, rebel and foreign forces has reduced much of the country’s infrastructure to rubble.

“Governance is weak or even absent in some areas. Years of conflict have left the healthcare system degraded or destroyed. Health professionals, medical equipment and supplies are desperately lacking,” said Pedersen.

“This virus does not care if you live in government-controlled areas or outside. It does not discriminate. It endangers all Syrians.”

The meeting was held online as UN headquarters has not been spared New York City’s lockdown amid a virulent outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed more than 1,200 lives across the state.

On Sunday, Syria’s government described the first officially recorded death from the disease. Officials there have shut businesses, schools, universities, mosques and most government offices and stopped public transport.

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