Opposition watchdog puts Syria's pandemic deaths at more than 1,000

UN staff infected, medical professionals overwhelmed.
Friday 11/09/2020
Syrians walk past a mural painted as part of an awareness campaign by UNICEF and World Health Organisation, bearing instructions on protection from COVID-19 in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli. (AFP)
Syrians walk past a mural painted as part of an awareness campaign by UNICEF and World Health Organisation, bearing instructions on protection from COVID-19 in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli. (AFP)

DAMASCUS - A Syrian opposition watchdog put the number of COVID-19 deaths in regime-controlled areas in Syria at more than 1,000 as of Friday.

Basing its information on “reliable medical sources in regime-controlled areas,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, “the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has reached nearly 21,100, of whom 2,850  recovered, and 1,040 died. ”

It added, “the cases are distributed across all Syrian provinces” but most of the infection cases and deaths are “still documented in the provinces of Aleppo, Damascus and Rif Dimashq, amid disastrous medical situation.”

SOHR’s estimated toll is much higher than the official tally of 3,416 confirmed cases and 147 deaths.

A UN official said Tuesday that more than 40 members of UN staff and their families have caught coronavirus in Syria as he warned that the illness was spreading in the war-torn country.

There were about 200 people, including “staff and dependents, spouses, children, parents, who have displayed symptoms of Covid-19,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs.

“From these 200, there are 42 staff and dependents who have been confirmed positive with Covid-19,” he added.

Three people had had to be medically evacuated, but most of the others had only “mild” symptoms.

“It caught us at a time where we have seen a very significant rise, or increase, in the level of Covid-19 in Syria,” Laerke added.

“We believe community transmission is widespread, and that the actual cases exceeds those that are officially recorded.”

In the past weeks, Syrian doctors and activists have voiced concerns on social networks of a possible explosion in the number of virus cases.

Human Rights Watch said last week that frontline staff battling the novel coronavirus in government-held areas were dying in growing numbers for want of personal protective equipment

“It is bewildering that as the obituaries for doctors and nurses responding to the Covid-19 pandemic pile up, official numbers tell a story at odds with the reality on the ground,” said HRW researcher Sara Kayyali.

Nine years of civil war have battered Syria’s healthcare system, with hospitals damaged by bombing, vital equipment lacking and doctors wounded or forced to flee fighting.

The Syrian health ministry recently admitted it did not always have the capacity to carry out large-scale testing across different provinces.