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The New Arab Staff

Covid-19 cases in Syria's capital could be more than 85,000, new investigation reveals

Damascus has been overwhelmed by Covid-19, Syrians have said [Getty]

Date of publication: 7 August, 2020

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A new report claims the coronavirus outbreak in Damascus is 'out of control', giving a 'conservative' estimate of 85,000 cases, ninety times the official figure
The Covid-19 outbreak in the Syrian regime capital could be ninety times the official figures, a new investigation by Syria in Context has warned.

The pandemic has become "out of control" in regime-controlled parts of Syria, the report claims, having overwhelmed the health care system which has been subject to decades of underfunding, corruption and mismanagement.

Using a combination of satellite imagery of burial sites, data on deaths in the region, statements from doctors and over a dozen sources from inside Syria, the report puts a "lower-range estimate" of Covid-19 cases in the Damascus region at 85,000, using a model developed by Imperial College London.

The official health ministry figure for total cases remains at 944, over ninety times lower than the report's estimate.

Local health services are woefully underequipped to deal with the virus outbreak, having insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and tests, as well as being subject to wdespread corruption.

The discord between official reports and Syrians experiencing large numbers of friends and relatives falling ill with suspected coronavirus and being denied treatment has sparked a "constant and deafening cry for help" on social media, the report says, with even well-known TV personalities speaking out.

A dozen sources reported to Syria in Context that there had been multiple deaths or serious illnesses within their families, and that a "significant number" of family or close friends had a suspected case of Covid-19.

Comparing data released on the number of daily deaths by the Damascus Governorate office of the deceased compared with the same week last year, the report highlighted how there seems to be between 79 to 108 excess deaths per day during the period 29 July - 1 August.

Meanwhile, a doctor at one of the country's main Covid-19 hospitals said he had recorded 800 deaths at his facility in just one week.

Similar to an alleged cover-up of Covid-19 deaths in Iran, the Syrian regime authorities have reportedly been registering coronavirus deaths as being caused by heart attacks and other common conditions.

However the report also points to satellite imagery showing "significant amounts of burial activity" in June and August in a new cemetary established outside the capital. Nearby cemetaries have also increased in density in recent months.

Health workers, who have been disproportionately affected by the virus, have been speaking out, despite the risks.

The Dean of Human Medicine Faculty in Damascus, Dr Nabogh Al-Awwa, said publicly that Syria “is experiencing a major spread of the Coronavirus," adding that it was not being counted properly, and that the percentage of infections among Syrians was "scary".

"One hundred infected people reach hospitals a day," he added. 

This is in spite of claims that only those with money and connections can gain access to hospitals for themselves or their sick relatives.

Corruption in the health system has adversely affected the coronavirus testing process, with reports that the tests obtained by the government are being hoarded for those able to pay elevated prices for a test. Other reports claim it has been possible to pay $100 for a clean bill of health that is necessary for travel.

Government officials have allegedly blamed the test shortage on western sanctions.

As witnessed in other areas badly hit by Covid-19, death rates shoot up once local hospitals become overwhelmed.

"As it becomes increasingly clear that the virus is far more prevalent than is being reported, an urgent increase in supplies and a radical change in approach to mitigating the outbreak, as well as increased transparency, are needed to prevent the growing catastrophe," the report said.


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