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Actual cases of COVID-19 in Syria may exceed official figures: UN official

People's Daily Online

(Xinhua) 09:31, August 28, 2020

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 27 (Xinhua) -- A senior UN official said Thursday that the actual cases of COVID-19 in Syria may far exceed official figures.

Reports of health care facilities filling up, of rising numbers of death notices and burials, all seem to indicate that the actual cases far exceed official figures, said Ramesh Rajasingham, acting UN assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

What the official figures do show is that community transmission is widespread. Of the 2,440 cases confirmed by the Syrian Health Ministry, the majority cannot be traced to a known source, he told the Security Council in a briefing.

Rising patient numbers are adding pressure to the fragile health system. Many are reluctant to seek care at medical facilities, leading to more severe complications when they do arrive. Health workers still lack sufficient personal protective equipment and associated supplies. Several health facilities have suspended operations due to capacity issues and to staff contracting the virus. Some are in areas already among the most underserved when it comes to health care, he said.

In Al Hol camp in northeast Syria, 12 health facilities had to suspend operations this month due to staff becoming infected, having to self-isolate, or due to lack of personal protective equipment. Both field hospitals at the camp have since resumed operations, said Rajasingham.

Sustained health services are critical at Al Hol, where the population is already considered highly vulnerable. Between Aug. 6 and 10, eight children under the age of five died in the camp, from a range of conditions, he said.

The World Health Organization is leading an inter-agency technical mission to Al Hol this week to look at how health coverage at the camp can be improved despite the immense challenges posed by COVID-19 and by the severe staffing and supply shortages that pre-date the pandemic, he said.

One of the impacts of COVID-19 in Syria has been a disruption in some commercial supply chains. Commercial supply chains may also be impacted, to varying degrees, by the explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon, three weeks ago, he said.

Rajasingham expressed concern over delays in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

A UN humanitarian delivery to northern rural Aleppo was dispatched via the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on July 28. This was the first such delivery since the adoption of Resolution 2533, which made Bab-al-Hawa the only remaining authorized crossing.

The convoy took 11 hours to reach its destination, al-Bab, after multiple delays, caused by a lack of approvals from various parties, as well as poor road conditions. Travel time to al-Bab from the Bab al-Salam crossing, which was shut down by Resolution 2533, would have been approximately two hours, he said.

A subsequent delivery on Aug. 21 was also delayed, he said.

The capacity of Bab al-Hawa border crossing needs to be expanded, as does the capacity of crossing points inside Syria. Significant roadworks will need to be completed before the onset of winter weather, he said.

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