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Medic in Syria warns of 'unprecedented catastrophe' from Covid-19 amid underreporting by regime

The medic says there's a crisis waiting to happen [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 August, 2020

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A medic based in Syria anonymously revealed that a Covid-19 emergency is brewing in regime-held areas.
A Syrian healthcare professional working in a public hospital said that the country is facing an "unprecedented catastrophe" from Covid-19 and accused Bashar Al-Assad's regime of dangerously underreporting coronavirus cases and deaths.

There have been weeks of reports emerging from Syria that the country is suffering under the weight of the pandemic and continued conflict, despite official numbers remaining relatively low.

The healthcare worker claims there is a "dangerous" shortage of medical supplies, testing and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as overcrowding in a number of hospitals in regime-held cities, including in Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs.

Nurses and doctors have to purchase their own PPE equipment, they claim, which is unaffordable to many.

"Over the past weeks, the numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths have rapidly increased and are far higher than the official figures of the Syrian government or the World Health Organization," the anonymous worker wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian.

"The official numbers were only 1,593 cases and 60 deaths as of 16 August. None of us believe these figures to be accurate. The deputy director of health for Damascus estimated the real number of Covid cases to be 112,500 in the Damascus area alone."

The media said there are hundreds of unconfirmed coronavirus-related deaths every day, while in Aleppo hospitals are running out of body bags.

In addition to underreporting of Covid-19 figures, "only 300 tests are being performed a day in only five government-run centres".

"We are treating patients in dirty rooms without enough medication and with little equipment to protect ourselves. Our hospitals are working at over-capacity, with beds and ventilators already occupied," the op-ed added.

Though the authorities ordered a lockdown in the area this was soon reversed.

"The early lockdown was reversed without clear reasons, which sent the wrong message to the public. People are not abiding by social distancing and masking. People are left with no choice but to open their businesses and go out to work, which is increasing the spread of the virus," the medic wrote.

Healthcare workers are dying

The number of Covid-19 deaths among medical personnel in government-held parts of Syria has shot up in recent weeks amid a rise in infections, several sources told AFP.

The capital Damascus has been especially hard hit, with doctors warning of a deteriorating situation in overcrowded hospitals struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

The Syndicate of Doctors in Damascus on July 25 started to publish lists of doctors it said had died while "confronting the coronavirus pandemic".

Its latest figures say at least 31 Syrian doctors had died since the start of the virus outbreak in the country.

Some of them live abroad, but the vast majority died while inside Syria, a doctor in a Damascus hospital revealed.

The doctor, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak on the issue, said most of the dead doctors had not been tested for the covid-19 disease.

"But the symptoms they had shown led us to believe that they died because of the" virus, he said.

"Now we deal with all hospital cases as though they are covid-19 cases," the doctor said of the response to the growing outbreak in the capital.

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