JISR AL-SHUGHOUR, Syria (Reuters) – At a quarantine center in war-torn northern Syria, doctors near the Turkish frontier are providing a first line of defense to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading to one of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
The center was set up last month in the countryside of Jisr al Shughour, part of the last major pocket of the country still in rebel hands after nine years of war, where nearly a million people were driven from their homes this year.
The area has yet to record its first confirmed case of the coronavirus. But tests are scarce, medical infrastructure has crumbled, and doctors fear any outbreak in the overflowing camps for the displaced would lead to a humanitarian disaster.
The quarantine center makes it possible for Syrians to return safely to the area from neighboring Turkey, where more than 3,000 people have died of the virus so far.
“No one likes to be quarantined, but when you look at it as a way to save the lives of four million people, of course it is excellent for us,” said Omar Al-Khaled, 27, who arrived at the center this week from Turkey.
Fouad Moussa, the center’s 33-year-old director, said people coming from Turkey are taken by private car across the border and directly to the facility, where they enter a sterilization room before being given a mattress and pillow.
During a visit by journalists, men under quarantine wearing medical masks were mostly playing video games on their phones on beds in a large dormitory room.
“The number of people arriving is increasing everyday. Each day we receive new groups, so we are requesting any support in order to set up other centers because of the growing numbers and tightness of the place,” said Moussa.
The center has brought some peace of mind to nervous families in northern Syria welcoming back relatives from Turkey, said Khaled.
“Personally, I was surprised by the capabilities of the center. The place is sterilized four times a day, and they give us food to break our (Ramadan) fast…and masks and medical gloves are distributed on a daily basis,” said Khaled.
Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Peter Graff
Image: A Syrian man is sprayed with disinfectant at the entrance of a quarantine center, where those entering from Turkey are carefully monitored as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the town of Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib province, Syria April 30, 2020. Picture taken April 30, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi