SYRIA IN CONTEXT - CORONAVIRUS UPDATE #14

COVID ARRIVES IN THE NORTHWEST

Dear friends and colleagues,

In recent weeks, Syria in Context has been making our COVID-19 coverage available as a free supplement in English, as well as in Arabic (with kind support from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Middle East). Given the lack of independent and reliable coverage of the unfolding crisis, we think this is an urgent necessity.

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Emma, Tobias and Asser


Syria in Context will continue to cover the impact and response to COVID-19 in Syria throughout the coming weeks. You can find previous updates on our website.

We are a wholly subscriber-funded publication. If you have found this update useful, we encourage you to consider joining our growing community by subscribing.

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WEEKLY COVID-19 UPDATE

The Coronavirus outbreak in Syria finally reached the northwest last week. Idlib’s vulnerable populations had previously remained COVID-free until a medical worker tested positive, after which three other infections were found within the medical staff at the hospital he was working in. In total, 2,632 Coronavirus tests have been conducted in the northwest and 5 have returned positive. This week, the Syrian government registered its highest daily rate of infections yet. In total, there have been 445 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Syria as of July 14. Of these, 439 were recorded in government-controlled areas, including 21 deaths and 138 recoveries while 280 cases remain active. As of July 9, a total of 9,331 tests had been carried out in laboratories in Damascus, Latakia, Aleppo and Homs. The Northeast had previously recorded six cases, one of which had died and five recovered, leaving no active cases.

Government-controlled areas: Cases continue to rise steadily in government-controlled areas, with the Ministry of Health registering 138 local cases in two weeks, and the highest number of infections recorded in one day with 23 cases on Monday. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health announced 22 more cases, bringing the total number to 439 cases. Of these, 262 remain active, while 138 have recovered, and 21 have died. Seven deaths were registered over the last week, including three on Monday and two on Tuesday. 

The MoH data shows that most infections have befallen people between the ages 20 and 69 (77%) with fewer among the elderly (2% over 80) and young children (5% under nine). Slightly more men than women have been recorded infected, 53% to 47%, respectively. The cases are spread across government-held territory, with 236 registered cases in Damascus, 125 in Damascus Countryside, 34 in Quneitra, 21 in Aleppo, seven in Homs, six in Daraa, five in Hama, three in Sweida, and two in Latakia. Among them are five Palestinian refugees.

Many cases continue to be recorded among medical workers (15 in Damascus, one in Aleppo, one in Rural Damascus, and another in Sweida) during the past three weeks. Three medical workers from Al-Noor Hospital in Jableh, in Latakia countryside, reportedly got infected with COVID-19. Munzer Hassan, the Director-General of the hospital, said that a man in his sixties entered the hospital and brought the virus in with him before being transferred to the Al-Hiffeh isolation centre. Hassan said that 25 people interacted with him and that they are waiting for those people’s test results. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) announced that six of its volunteers have been infected in Daraa after the first case was recorded in the same governorate last week. SARC says that it has taken the necessary measures to prevent further spread within its ranks. 

Besides medical workers, the judicial sector is now on alert as well after two judges had tested positive during the past week. According to the Ministry of Justice, their secretaries are suspected to have been infected as well. Similar concerns are emerging in the education sector. According to the President of Tishreen University, one of the university’s employees requested to get a test after she interacted with an infected person. A student in Aleppo University’s School of Economy tested positive for the virus two days after a swab was taken from him, the university said on July 9. 

In response to the growing outbreak, the Syrian Ministry of Health called on people to practice COVID-19 preventative measures ahead of parliamentary elections this weekend. However, photos from social receptions by candidates, like those held by Hussam Katerji in Aleppo, showed neither candidate nor guests wearing masks or practicing social distancing. Additionally, COVID-19 prevention measures and precautions have been advised to be used during voting itself. The government announced that people in quarantine could not vote. 

Citizens stuck in Lebanon will be permitted to return home through the land borders, provided they have the recent result of a PCR test (not more than 18 hours old) from specified Lebanese hospitals, which are Rafic Hariri International Hospital in Beirut, Al-Harawi in Zahle, Tripoli Hospital, Tibnin Hospital. The returnees will be asked to quarantine at home for five days if their results were negative, while those who are infected will be taken to a centre to be isolated.

Northwest: This past week, COVID-19 finally reached Syria’s northwest. As of Tuesday, eight cases had been identified in the area. At least 2,627 of 2,695 tests conducted in the region up to now have come back negative. The first case, identified on Thursday, was a 39-year-old doctor working in the Bab al-Hawa hospital. The man had been infected in Gaziantep, Turkey, where he lives. The man began to suffer symptoms on July 4 but was not tested until July 9. In the intervening period, he had stayed in Al-Bab city. The extended period of five days, the large number of contacts  (he is thought to have interacted with 135 people), and the man’s movements between various locations within the northwest make this a challenging outbreak to trace and contain. Meanwhile, contact tracing is underway and the Bab al-Hawa hospital was placed under lockdown immediately, with all staff and contacts tested. So far, five cases have been identified among the contacts who have been tested to date, at least two of which are in northern Aleppo.

The introduction of COVID-19 to the area carries the potential for disaster as the region’s population and health services remain highly vulnerable to a pandemic outbreak. The Minister of Health for the Syrian Interim Government said that the number of cases of coronavirus is expected to increase and may exceed the capacity of the health system to absorb them. The area near Al-Bab hospital is predominantly populated by large IDP settlements where tens of thousands of displaced people live in high-density camps and tents making social distancing difficult. However, mitigation measures have been increased, with restrictions on gatherings and movements. 

At least seven hospitals in Idlib have suspended non-urgent care to help prevent the spread of the virus. 159 health centres now have COVID-19 triage centres for suspected cases and five community-based isolation centres are operating to allow those who may have the virus to isolate. Economic hardship continues to make preventative measures difficult to maintain.

Northeast: There are no new COVID-19 cases recorded in NES. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria watches anxiously as the number of cases soars in government-held areas and the first infections registered in the northwest. On Monday, the Director of Health at the AANES said that all those who enter northeast Syria will be subjected to medical tests unless they have a negative PCR result not more than 24 hours old. All border crossings have been shut down by the AANES since July 13 and any humanitarian case that is to be allowed in will have to be quarantined for 14 days. The Administration said that even dead bodies will not be allowed to enter the areas in controls for now and that only students doing exams in other regions will benefit from an exception. 

Neighbouring countries: Lebanon has 2,451 COVID-19 cases, with recorded 37 deaths and 1,423 recoveries. On Monday, the Ministry of Health announced registering 85 cases, 19 of which are among repatriated citizens. The ministerial committee tasked with handling the pandemic met the same day and announced the need for stricter preventative measures. Rafic Al-Hariri Hospital, which is the biggest medical establishment in Lebanon that treats COVID-19 patients, is struggling with a severe shortage in fuel reserves that forced the hospital’s administration to increase electricity rationing from six hours a day to 12 hours a day or more. This has led the hospital to postpone some medical operations and switch off air conditioning in some departments. 

In Turkey, 222,539 cases have been recorded, leading to 5,382 deaths and 195,671 recoveries. In Iran, 259,652 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, with 13,032 deaths and 222,539 recoveries. Iraq has 79,735 cases, of whom 3,250 died and 46,998. In Jordan, there have been 1,183 cases of COVID-19, with 10 deaths and 1,008 recoveries.

Key Reads:

Refugees are more susceptible to losing their livelihoods because of the counter COVID-19 measures than host communities, says a  Center for Global Development study: Locked Down and Left Behind: The Impact of COVID-19 on Refugees’ Economic Inclusion' (EN, Center for Global Development, July 8, 2020) WEEKLY COVID-19 UPDATE

The Coronavirus outbreak in Syria finally reached the northwest last week. Idlib’s vulnerable populations had previously remained COVID-free until a medical worker tested positive, after which three other infections were found within the medical staff at the hospital he was working in. In total, 2,632 Coronavirus tests have been conducted in the northwest and 5 have returned positive. This week, the Syrian government registered its highest daily rate of infections yet. In total, there have been 445 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Syria as of July 14. Of these, 439 were recorded in government-controlled areas, including 21 deaths and 138 recoveries while 280 cases remain active. As of July 9, a total of 9,331 tests had been carried out in laboratories in Damascus, Latakia, Aleppo and Homs. The Northeast had previously recorded six cases, one of which had died and five recovered, leaving no active cases.

Government-controlled areas: Cases continue to rise steadily in government-controlled areas, with the Ministry of Health registering 138 local cases in two weeks, and the highest number of infections recorded in one day with 23 cases on Monday. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health announced 22 more cases, bringing the total number to 439 cases. Of these, 262 remain active, while 138 have recovered, and 21 have died. Seven deaths were registered over the last week, including three on Monday and two on Tuesday. 

The MoH data shows that most infections have befallen people between the ages 20 and 69 (77%) with fewer among the elderly (2% over 80) and young children (5% under nine). Slightly more men than women have been recorded infected, 53% to 47%, respectively. The cases are spread across government-held territory, with 236 registered cases in Damascus, 125 in Damascus Countryside, 34 in Quneitra, 21 in Aleppo, seven in Homs, six in Daraa, five in Hama, three in Sweida, and two in Latakia. Among them are five Palestinian refugees.

Many cases continue to be recorded among medical workers (15 in Damascus, one in Aleppo, one in Rural Damascus, and another in Sweida) during the past three weeks. Three medical workers from Al-Noor Hospital in Jableh, in Latakia countryside, reportedly got infected with COVID-19. Munzer Hassan, the Director-General of the hospital, said that a man in his sixties entered the hospital and brought the virus in with him before being transferred to the Al-Hiffeh isolation centre. Hassan said that 25 people interacted with him and that they are waiting for those people’s test results. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) announced that six of its volunteers have been infected in Daraa after the first case was recorded in the same governorate last week. SARC says that it has taken the necessary measures to prevent further spread within its ranks. 

Besides medical workers, the judicial sector is now on alert as well after two judges had tested positive during the past week. According to the Ministry of Justice, their secretaries are suspected to have been infected as well. Similar concerns are emerging in the education sector. According to the President of Tishreen University, one of the university’s employees requested to get a test after she interacted with an infected person. A student in Aleppo University’s School of Economy tested positive for the virus two days after a swab was taken from him, the university said on July 9. 

In response to the growing outbreak, the Syrian Ministry of Health called on people to practice COVID-19 preventative measures ahead of parliamentary elections this weekend. However, photos from social receptions by candidates, like those held by Hussam Katerji in Aleppo, showed neither candidate nor guests wearing masks or practicing social distancing. Additionally, COVID-19 prevention measures and precautions have been advised to be used during voting itself. The government announced that people in quarantine could not vote. 

Citizens stuck in Lebanon will be permitted to return home through the land borders, provided they have the recent result of a PCR test (not more than 18 hours old) from specified Lebanese hospitals, which are Rafic Hariri International Hospital in Beirut, Al-Harawi in Zahle, Tripoli Hospital, Tibnin Hospital. The returnees will be asked to quarantine at home for five days if their results were negative, while those who are infected will be taken to a centre to be isolated.

Northwest: This past week, COVID-19 finally reached Syria’s northwest. As of Tuesday, eight cases had been identified in the area. At least 2,627 of 2,695 tests conducted in the region up to now have come back negative. The first case, identified on Thursday, was a 39-year-old doctor working in the Bab al-Hawa hospital. The man had been infected in Gaziantep, Turkey, where he lives. The man began to suffer symptoms on July 4 but was not tested until July 9. In the intervening period, he had stayed in Al-Bab city. The extended period of five days, the large number of contacts  (he is thought to have interacted with 135 people), and the man’s movements between various locations within the northwest make this a challenging outbreak to trace and contain. Meanwhile, contact tracing is underway and the Bab al-Hawa hospital was placed under lockdown immediately, with all staff and contacts tested. So far, five cases have been identified among the contacts who have been tested to date, at least two of which are in northern Aleppo.

The introduction of COVID-19 to the area carries the potential for disaster as the region’s population and health services remain highly vulnerable to a pandemic outbreak. The Minister of Health for the Syrian Interim Government said that the number of cases of coronavirus is expected to increase and may exceed the capacity of the health system to absorb them. The area near Al-Bab hospital is predominantly populated by large IDP settlements where tens of thousands of displaced people live in high-density camps and tents making social distancing difficult. However, mitigation measures have been increased, with restrictions on gatherings and movements. 

At least seven hospitals in Idlib have suspended non-urgent care to help prevent the spread of the virus. 159 health centres now have COVID-19 triage centres for suspected cases and five community-based isolation centres are operating to allow those who may have the virus to isolate. Economic hardship continues to make preventative measures difficult to maintain.

Northeast: There are no new COVID-19 cases recorded in NES. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria watches anxiously as the number of cases soars in government-held areas and the first infections registered in the northwest. On Monday, the Director of Health at the AANES said that all those who enter northeast Syria will be subjected to medical tests unless they have a negative PCR result not more than 24 hours old. All border crossings have been shut down by the AANES since July 13 and any humanitarian case that is to be allowed in will have to be quarantined for 14 days. The Administration said that even dead bodies will not be allowed to enter the areas in controls for now and that only students doing exams in other regions will benefit from an exception. 

Neighbouring countries: Lebanon has 2,451 COVID-19 cases, with recorded 37 deaths and 1,423 recoveries. On Monday, the Ministry of Health announced registering 85 cases, 19 of which are among repatriated citizens. The ministerial committee tasked with handling the pandemic met the same day and announced the need for stricter preventative measures. Rafic Al-Hariri Hospital, which is the biggest medical establishment in Lebanon that treats COVID-19 patients, is struggling with a severe shortage in fuel reserves that forced the hospital’s administration to increase electricity rationing from six hours a day to 12 hours a day or more. This has led the hospital to postpone some medical operations and switch off air conditioning in some departments. 

In Turkey, 222,539 cases have been recorded, leading to 5,382 deaths and 195,671 recoveries. In Iran, 259,652 cases of COVID-19 have been recorded, with 13,032 deaths and 222,539 recoveries. Iraq has 79,735 cases, of whom 3,250 died and 46,998. In Jordan, there have been 1,183 cases of COVID-19, with 10 deaths and 1,008 recoveries

Key Reads:


Syria in Context will continue to cover the impact and response to COVID-19 in Syria throughout the coming weeks. You can find previous updates on our website.

We are a wholly subscriber-funded publication. If you have found this update useful, we encourage you to consider joining our growing community:

Get 30 day free trial


SYRIA IN CONTEXT is a subscription newsletter edited by Emma Beals and Tobias Schneider and written with Asser Khattab. You can follow us on twitter @SyriaContext or email us at SyriaInContext@gmail.com .

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