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The New Arab

Syria quarantines town known to house pro-regime foreign fighters, but insists Covid-19 cases low

A suburb of Damascus has come under full lockdown over Covid-19 [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 April, 2020

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The Syrian regime has sealed off the town of Sayyida Zeinab as a Covid-19 'precaution' without acknowledging the town is a hub of foreign Shia militiamen and potential coronavirus transmitters.
The Syrian regime on Thursday sealed off the town of Sayyida Zainab, claiming it was a precautionary measure against coronavirus as the Damascus suburb is "densely populated", according to state news agency SANA.

The regime still claims that there are only 16 cases in the whole country, including just one in the Rif Dimashq governate where Sayyida Zainab is located. The one case resulted in a death, according to official figures.

Foreign pro-regime fighters, mainly Shia militiamen, are known to reside in Sayyida Zainab, but the statement made no mention of this.

Syria was among the last countries in Asia to officially register any cases of Covid-19, arousing suspicions that there had been a government cover-up, especially as many fighters from Iran, which has been especially hard-hit by the virus, have been coming into Syria.

Rumours circulated in early March that Iranian militiamen had caused an outbreak of coronavirus among Syrian regime soldiers, but these were never proved accurate.

Syria's harsh authoritarian regime however allows for little transparency around such issues.

Nine years of gruelling civil war has also eroded healthcare facilities in both regime and opposition-held areas, meaning the country is considered at very high risk of a large-scale outbreak.

On 24th March, two days after the first case was officially registered, the regime's interior ministry imposed a curfew across the country restricting movement between 12 noon and 6am.

On Thursday, the regime also sealed off the town of Mneen near the border with Lebanon following the death of a woman from coronavirus, state media reported.

The health minister said the woman, who ran a shop with her family, did not adhere to the curfew regulations. He also pointed to the fact that people coming into the town illegally from Lebanon may have transmitted the virus.

However, authorities insist there are no more Covid-19 cases in Mneen but have still imposed a near-total lockdown on the town, including restrictions on imports of food and fuel, according to Syria expert Elizabeth Tsurkov.

Tsurkov tweeted that locals had complained that officials have been taking shares of vegetables, diesel and gas for themselves from supplies that were meant to be distributed among the town's residents.

She also warned that Mneen is located near the "gargantuan" prison Sednaya known to hold political detainees in dire conditions.

Human rights groups have warned about the catastrophic impact a coronavirus outbreak could have in Syria's detention facilities, which as notoriously overcrowded and unsanitary, and where starvation, torture and disease is rife.



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