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The New Arab Staff

Covid-19 rampaging through northwest Syria, warns IRC

Idlib could suffer badly if hit by Covid-19 [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 November, 2020

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Northwest Syria has seen an surge in Covid-19 cases which is concerning health workers and NGOs.
Northwest Syria is experiencing a massive surge in Covid-19 cases, with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is warning of a shortage of beds and equipment that could create a nightmare scenario in the country.

Syria's northwest region, which is outside regime control, saw a 300 percent increase in coronavirus cases in October.

Up to 28 October, the region had recorded 4,281 Covid-19 cases recorded and 21 confirmed deaths. This number has since increased to 6,063 confirmed cases and 42 deaths.

The IRC fears that the Covid-19 outbreak might be much worse than official tallies suggest, due to testing capacities being severely restricted.

They also warned that Covid-19 misinformation might contribute to its spread.

"We recently heard about a woman who escaped the camp after she was suspected of being infected by the virus. Her reaction came out of fear of being rejected by the community," one case worker in the northwest told the IRC.

There is also stigma surrounding mask wearing in the area, the IRC said, with many believing it signifies the wearer carries the disease.

"Individuals who have chronic diseases such as heart issues, asthma and others are stigmatised as they have low immunity and wear masks, which makes others think that they are infected and carry the disease, especially if they suffer from a cough and shortness of breath as a result of their usual health condition," said another key worker.

Another caseworker told the IRC that children are making fun of the situation.

"We see them in the streets singing about the coronavirus and scaring each other with masks," a worker in northwest Syria said.

"Yesterday, I was sitting on the balcony and saw a child pick up a mask from the ground and put it on to scare the other children saying 'Corona! Corona!' and all the other children ran away from him. They think that those wearing the masks are the ones infected."

Another issue for health and case workers is that only those with severe Covid-19 symptoms are being tested for the disease, while others with less obvious signs are being told to self-isolate.

There are concerns that already overstretched healthcare services in northwest Syria could be overwhelmed if the disease continues to spread.

There are only 155 ventilators and 142 ICU beds available for a population of 4.1 million, meaning that if the disease rips through Idlib and Aleppo provinces, the death toll could be unimaginable.

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