Syrian Kurds set up first coronavirus hospital
Syria's Kurds have set up a specialised hospital for coronavirus cases, the Kurdish Red Crescent said Monday, after the first COVID-19 death was reported in the northeastern region.
The United Nations on Friday said a man in his fifties had on April 2 become the first fatality from COVID-19 in northeastern Syria.
In a region suffering from a lack of medical supplies, the news further raised fears of a breakout, particularly in its overcrowded camps for the displaced.
Kurdish Red Crescent co-director Sherwan Bery said a new 120-bed facility was now ready to welcome any moderate cases of the virus in an area around 10 kilometres (six miles) from the city of Hasakeh.
The hospital "is to just focus on the COVID-19 infection cases" and keep them all in the same place instead of across different hospitals, he said.
The idea is "to not spread contamination to other areas," Bery said.
AFP journalists saw a large ward containing dozens of beds spaced out several metres apart, with tall oxygen tanks by their side.
"We are preparing for the moderate cases," Bery said, but efforts were also ongoing to set up an intensive care unit for severe cases, there or in another location.
He said other coronavirus wards would also be set up in the cities of Raqqa and Manbij.
Kurdish authorities on Friday accused the World Health Organisation of a two-week delay in informing them of the first coronavirus-related death in their areas and said they would blame the WHO for any outbreak.
The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA said WHO provided information that the fatality had subsequently tested positive.
Fears are high of any spread in the region's overcrowded displacement camps, including the tent settlement of Al-Hol that houses some 70,000 people, including families of militants from the Islamic State extremist group.
OCHA on Friday said construction had commenced "to establish an isolation area outside Al-Hol camp, with capacity for 80 beds".
The Syrian regime has announced 39 cases of COVID-19 in areas it controls, including three deaths.
Across Syria, fears of a coronavirus outbreak are very high, especially amid the destruction the country’s health system has suffered during nine years of conflict.
Hundreds of medical facilities have been bombed, mostly in Assad regime airstrikes; half the hospitals and health centres are functioning only partially or not at all, while 70% of the medical personnel have fled the country. More than 80% of the population live in poverty, millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands are crammed into overcrowded camps.
On Saturday, the charity Save the Children warned prevention was key in Syria's northeast, a region with "fewer than 30 intensive care unit beds, only ten adult ventilators and just one paediatric ventilator".
"We're desperately hoping that this first COVID-19 case in northeast Syria can be contained or the consequences are unthinkable," said its Syria response director Sonia Khush.