BEIRUT (AP) — Hospitals in Syria’s overcrowded opposition-held enclave are suspending non-emergency procedures and outpatient services following the detection of the first case of coronavirus, a leading doctor in the area said Friday.
The regional education department also announced it was closing all schools.
The first case of COVID-19, a doctor in the area, was reported on Thursday in Idlib province, the last opposition-held part of Syria in a sliver of land bordering Turkey. The doctor was isolated and the hospital he worked in was shut down. The patients and medical staff he came in contact with have been quarantined.
There have been major concerns of an outbreak in northwestern Syria, an area packed with more than three million people, many of them living in tents and encampments, and where health facilities have been devastated by Syria’s long civil war.
Munzer Khalil, the head of the Idlib health directorate, said the measures to suspend non-emergency procedures and reduce services were taken to raise the medical staff’s level of readiness and show the public how serious the matter is. The measures will last at least a week.
The doctor diagnosed with the virus is a 39-year old who works in both Idlib and rural areas in neighboring Aleppo province. He had seen several patients, so contact tracing and testing is underway, Khalil said.
Fadi Hakim, of the Syrian American Medical Society, said the infected doctor is in isolation in Bab al-Hawa hospital but his symptoms remain mild.
Schools will close as of Saturday until further notice, suggesting a return to remote learning, which had been in place until earlier this month.
Testing has been a major issue in the aid-dependent region, where one lab is in charge of carrying out virus tests. Some testing has been also done through Turkey, which has troops inside the enclave.
In government-held areas in Syria, authorities have recorded 394 cases, including 16 virus-related deaths. In Kurdish-held areas in Syria’s northeast, where testing facilities are limited, about half a dozen cases have been reported.
“People have been lax” when it comes to taking precautions, Khalil said of residents of the area . “We want to use this period to raise awareness and to show how serious it is and to finish the preparedness of hospitals.”
The first COVID-19 case in Idlib comes as moves by Russia, a major ally of the Syrian government, are threatening to shut down border crossing between the rebel-held enclave and Turkey.
A vote on a resolution that would determine the fate of two border crossings with the enclave, and how long they remain open, is expected later Friday in the UN Security Council. Aid groups and residents of the enclave warn of dire consequences of limiting or reducing UN cross-border aid to the area, already devastated by displacement and destruction from frequent government attacks and amid the pandemic.
Russia, which argues aid should come through Damascus, wants to shut down one of two border crossings with Turkey. Western nations are pushing to keep the two existing ones open.
Image: In this March 19, 2020 file photo, a member of a humanitarian aid agency disinfects inside Ibn Sina Hospital as prevention against the coronavirus in Idlib, Syria. Hospitals in Syria’s overcrowded opposition-held enclave are suspending non-emergency procedures and outpatient services following the detection of the first case of coronavirus. A leading doctor in the area said on Friday, July 10, 2020 that the measures will last at lest a week. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed, File)