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WHO responds as rumours swirl of coronavirus outbreak among Assad, Iranian forces in Syria Open in fullscreen

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WHO responds as rumours swirl of coronavirus outbreak among Assad, Iranian forces in Syria

Syrian medics prepare to check the body temperature of passengers arriving from Iraq [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 March, 2020

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Prominent analysts have discussed the possibility of Iranian soldiers bringing coronavirus into the ranks of pro-regime fighters in Syria, however the UN health body continues to refute such reports.
The World Health Organization declared on Thursday it “categorically refutes” rumours circulating on social media that it confirmed the spread of the novel coronavirus in Syria, calling it “misinformation”.

The group reiterated its current findings that the COVID-19 virus has not yet been recorded in Syria.

It added that it is “working closely” with the Syrian regime Ministry of Health to help prepare a response to the virus, including providing testing kits sufficient to test a thousand people, as well as working to increase public health awareness.

The WHO’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has previously stated, "Our greatest enemy is not the virus, it is fear, rumours and stigma," 

The WHO statement comes after it was suggested on Twitter that Iranian soldiers fighting alongside  the Assad regime had transmitted the virus, which has spread rapidly in Iran, into Syria.

Syria analyst Charles Lister tweeted on Thursday that he was “reliably told that #Coronavirus has arrived in #Syria, carried by infected #IRGC/Quds Force personnel and/or newly trained militiamen flown in from #Iran.”

Thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces and paramilitary volunteers are thought to be fighting in Syria, where Iran has been a key backer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Iran has seen a dizzying rise in confirmed coronavirus infections, spreading to all of its 31 provinces with over 4,700 cases recorded so far.

Despite its cooperation with the WHO, some observers doubt that the totalitarian Syrian regime would immediately disclose suspected coronavirus cases.

Cases have been recorded in neighbouring Iraq, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan.

“The coronavirus has already hit Lebanon and Iran; it’s entirely possible that it will run rampant through the Middle East, including the war zone in northern Syria,” Irwin Redlener, the director of the US National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP), has written.

Many others have warned of the health catastrophe that could hit war-torn parts of Syria if a coronavirus epidemic emerges. 

According to the UN, 53 medical facilities have closed or stopped operations in Syria because of the conflict. Many of them, including two recently in Idlib, have been deliberately attacked by the regime.

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