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article imageWar-torn Syria confirms first COVID-19 case amid fears of spread

By Karen Graham     Mar 23, 2020 in World
After weeks of denials from officials in Damascus, Syria has confirmed its first case of COVID-19, as fears mount of an outbreak that will have catastrophic consequences on the war-torn country.
Nine years of war have devastated Syria's infrastructure and put a tremendous strain on the country's economy and healthcare system, and now, State media in Syria on Sunday reported the country's first coronavirus case, based on reports from healthcare workers in the capital that patients have presented with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.
This information has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to assess that Syria’s “fragile health systems may not have the capacity to detect and respond” to the pandemic, according to The Guardian.
Other regions are also of great concern to world health authorities, like the Gaza Strip and war-torn Libya and Yemen, which have yet to report any COVID-19 cases. The worst outbreak in the Middle East is unfolding in Iran - where authorities have reported another 127 deaths on Monday, bringing the total number of fatalities to more than 1,800 amid more than 23,000 confirmed cases.
According to Global News, the dead included the mother-in-law of the son of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the official IRNA news agency said.
Hospitals in nations hit by COVID-19 are facing surging numbers of patients
Hospitals in nations hit by COVID-19 are facing surging numbers of patients
The acute risk to the city of Idlib, Syria
The health risk over the coronavirus is particularly acute in the opposition-held north-west and the Kurdish-controlled north-east, the two areas still outside of Bashar al-Assad’s control, and where absolutely no COVID-19 testing kits are available.
In north-western Idlib province, about 900,000 people are living in makeshift accommodations and overcrowded tents, where adequate hygiene and social distancing measures are impossible. Bombing missions by Assad and his Russian backers have succeeded in destroying 61 medical facilities - leaving only a few hospital beds (about 60, total), or medicines.
“In Idlib, when our partners go and talk to [displaced Syrians] about coronavirus preparedness, they start laughing,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director.
“They’re trying to find places to live, a lot of them are still in fields. Their top priority is sheltering and getting things like jerry cans to keep their water. For that population, coronavirus has not hit their top five concerns. They’re still dealing with basic needs.”
Basically, it comes down to the fact that social-distancing and hand-washing are literally unavailable when people are living in mud-filled squalor. In the Kurdish-controlled northeast. Local officials there tell NPR they have no resources to test, their borders are sealed, and so far, they're not sure where to turn for help.
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