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UN and international organizations warn of disaster if COVID-19 spreads in Northern Syria

Editing: Mohamad Alaa |
TranslationEditor: Glory Jabr |
Translation: Muhammad Ghaith

Syria - SMART

United Nations and international organizations warned of serious disaster if coronavirus (COVID-19), caused by SARS-CoV-2, spreads in areas outside Syrian government forces control; however, no one has responded in any action to save the lives of 4 million people, about a third of them live in camps.

MSF warns of disaster if COVID-19 spreads in Northern Syria:

Cristian Reynders, MSF project coordinator in Northwestern Syria, warned of a humanitarian disaster if COVID-19 spreads in Northern Syria.

Reynders called on the international community to undertake its responsibilities towards people who are forced to live in camps that lack medical care and precautionary procedures against COVID-19. Reynders added that the medical situation in the area is poor, especially as dozens of medical facilities were forced to shut down.  

Reynders noted that military operations launched by the Syrian government forces and Russia in Northwestern Syria prevented people from taking precautionary procedures to limit infection, amidst heavy population in a narrow geographical area. 

Turkey calls international community to act for Idlib: 

The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged the international community to immediately act for Idlib amidst the spread of COVID-19. 

Speaking at a virtual conference by the Atlantic Council in Turkey, Cavusoglu said that COVID-19 aggravated the situation in Idlib and the international community must act before it is too late for Syria and Idlib, according to Anadolu Agency.

Cavusoglu said, "We are concerned that this might trigger another wave of refugees to Turkey due to the international community's failure."

Cavusoglu stressed the necessity to keep the ceasefire agreement in Idlib, adding that settling solutions to clashes in Libya, Syria, and other areas in the world has become necessary after COVID-19 appeared. 

Social distancing is impossible in camps:

The Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) warned of a humanitarian disaster if COVID-19 spreads in displaced people’s camps, Northern Syria.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Erhan Yemelek, the deputy head of IHH emphasized the need for support in the fight against COVID-19 especially in the northern governorates like Idlib and Aleppo where a million displaced people are currently living in refugee camps. Yemelek said it is impossible to maintain social distancing in camps, making the displaced people vulnerable to plagues.

Yemelek emphasized that the IHH is trying to be prepared for a worst-case scenario. Yemelek said that they will build quarantine hospitals using tents, and if any confirmed cases appear, they will be treated at these hospitals. Yemelek added that the IHH distributed medical equipment and hygiene kits to the people in the camps for free.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said that COVID-19 would be deadlier if it spreads in Syrian displaced people camps and refugee camps. 

In a report, Marcus Skinner, Senior Policy Adviser for the IRC said, "The rapid spread of COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess showed how the virus thrives in confined spaces but for millions of displaced people their conditions are far more cramped and poorly serviced and the risks are far deadlier. Refugees living in overcrowded camps lack access to adequate healthcare, shelter, water and sanitation, posing major challenges in efforts to protect them from the disease."

UN Commission of Inquiry warns of disaster if COVID-19 spreads in Idlib:

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (IICI-Syria) warned of a disaster if necessary precautionary procedures against COVID-19 are not taken in Syria. 

Paulo Pinheiro, Chair of the Commission said in a statement, "Syrian civilians now face a deadly threat in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak, one that will strike without distinction and that will be devastating for the most vulnerable in the absence of urgent preventative action. In order to avoid a looming tragedy, the parties must heed the United Nations Secretary-General's and the Special Envoy's calls for a cease-fire – anything short of that will likely condemn large numbers of civilians to preventable deaths."

The statement added, “Among the communities most vulnerable to COVID-19 are the more than 6.5 million internally displaced Syrians. This includes more than a million civilians, mainly women and children, who have been living in the open or overcrowded tents and makeshift camps along the Syria-Turkey border in Idlib Governorate.” 

"Humanitarian aid, including medical supplies and support, must be allowed to flow to such persons based on need and not political considerations," urged Commissioner Karen AbuZayd.

"We reiterate our call to immediately release all those detained arbitrarily or unlawfully, as well as all children, the elderly, the disabled and the infirm without delay" urged Commissioner Hani Megally.

UN demands ceasefire in Idlib :

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General demanded a global and immediate ceasefire in Syria to face COVID-19.  

Guterres noted that Geir Pedersen, the UN Special Envoy for Syria will work with all relevant players on the ground, as well as with key countries who can support a scaling-up of action to respond to COVID-19 and ensure that the ceasefire holds.

Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire and the release of detainees and abductees by the Syrian government forces and opposition factions to enable an all-out-effort to suppress COVID-19 in Syria. 

In a statement, Pedersen stated that Guterres appealed to warring parties to reach a global ceasefire to enable humanity to face a common enemy that is COVID-19.  

Ms. Najat Rochdi, Senior Humanitarian Adviser to Pedersen urged to exert extensive efforts to ensure assistance and support can reach Syrians across the country as soon as possible.

In a video meeting with the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) Humanitarian Task Force, Ms. Rochdi stressed that the current situation is new and unlike any we have dealt with in Syria for the last 9 years.

Ms. Rochdi added that donor countries, including those who have imposed unilateral measures that can impair capacity response, were also urged to ensure that exemptions for medical care can be fully and immediately utilized and all obstacles put aside in this crisis. 

Humanitarian agencies informed the work team that the general medical system in Syria is poor due to war and needs significant support to enhance its ability to face COVID-19. Organizations noted the importance of providing Syria with medical necessities and devices and equipment urgently to face potential spread of COVID-19. 

Civil Defense: ”One case of COVID-19 is enough to trigger disaster”

The Syrian Civil Defense Organization warned of “Serious disaster” facing more than four million people in Northern Syria in case of an outbreak of COVID-19, amidst conflict and displacement that have been occurring in the area for years.

In a statement, the Civil Defense said, “Although no infected case has been registered so far, this does not mean that the virus does not exist. If one COVID-19 case is registered, there would be no ability to deal with cases that may turn into an explosion, especially in overcrowded camps where more than one and a half million displaced people live, lacking the basic needs of life, including water and proper sewage systems.”

The Civil Defense added that implementing precautionary procedures against the virus, including staying at home, is impossible in the area, due to the deteriorating life conditions that force people to provide their livelihood on a daily basis, as people have two choices, “Starve to death, or dying due to the virus.”

The Civil Defense mentioned that implementing social distancing is not applicable in camps, which might lead to an uncontrollable spread of the virus.  

Regarding the capacity of medical sector in Northern Syria to handle a possible outbreak of the virus, the statement said that the capacity is very limited due to Russian and Syrian government forces bombings that destroyed hospitals and medical centers in the area.

The statement stressed that the international community, the UN, the World Health Organization, and all humanitarian organizations, are facing a “Humanitarian and moral responsibility” to save the lives of civilians in Northern Syria.

The statement called for immediate support for the medical and humanitarian sector to face the disaster before it is too late.

On Dec. 31, 2019, the novel coronavirus COVID-19 spread in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The virus has infected more than 2.6 million people until April 23, 2020  in more than 210 countries, about 185,000 of them died, according to the (Worldometer).

COVID-19 is an infectious disease, caused by SARS-CoV-2, that spreads from person-to-person and by respiratory droplets. These droplets fall on surrounding surfaces, so other people could be infected when they touch these surfaces by touching their eyes, noses, or mouths. People could be infected if they inhale droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, so it is important to keep a one-meter distance (three feet) away from infected people.

Infection symptoms include body aches, blocked nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. The symptoms begin as mild and develop gradually. Some people become infected without showing any symptoms and without feeling ill. About 80% of infected people recover from the disease without any special treatment.