COVID-19 spreading rapidly in North-East Syria

Issue 
Dr Ciwan Hame from the Kurdish Red Crescent NES COVID-19 Operation Desk. Photo: Rojava Information Centre on Twitter

COVID-19 cases are spreading rapidly in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES), also known as Rojava.

During March, the number of cases grew by almost 700%, and by April new cases had surpassed the peak of last year, according to the Rojava Information Centre (RIC).

Amidst a third wave of the pandemic, health officials are urging people to take measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 and the administration has introduced lockdowns in the Qamishlo, Hesekê and Raqqa regions to contain the pandemic, according to Firat News Agency. In April, Deir-ez-zor and the Euphrates regions also went into lockdown.

Cizire (Jazira) Region Health Committee spokeswoman Rojîn Ehmed told Hawar News Agency: “Eighty people were infected in Qamishlo in a day, and many died. The Health Committee has once again declared a curfew to stem the virus’ spread.”

Ehmed said a decision on whether to extend the curfew would be made on the basis of daily case numbers. “However, if the number of cases increases, the Crisis Desk will immediately extend the curfew and take corresponding measures,” she said.

The people of Rojava/AANES have no direct access to vaccines via the World Health Organization (WHO). This means the region’s population of 5 million is reliant on Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus to procure vaccines on their behalf.

“Previously there were some promises about coronavirus vaccines to be shipped directly to the Autonomous Administration regions, not through the government of Damascus,” said Ehmed. “However, these promises have not been fulfilled.”

According to the latest data, the number of coronavirus cases in North-East Syria reached 11,092. Of those infected, 400 have died and 1341 have recovered. In early April, NES recorded 1265 new COVID-19 cases in one week, according to RIC.

The surge in cases is occurring amidst a severe lack of testing kits, according to RIC. Qamishlo’s Central Laboratory “is running out of PCR Testing Supplies and might soon be unable to continue operating. The laboratory is waiting for an urgent delivery of RNA Extraction Kits”.

Dr Ciwan Hame from the Kurdish Red Crescent's NES COVID operation desk told RIC, “We receive up to 60 calls daily for COVID tests. In February, we had two or three calls a day.

More than 120 civil society organisations in North-East Syria published an open letter to the WHO on March 30, expressing concern about the disproportionally low number of vaccines being sent to NES versus other areas of Syria.

The letter said: "A million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine are supposed to arrive to Syria during the first batches, including 336,000 doses to Syrian opposition-held areas and 90,000 doses to Self-Administration-held areas in NES."

However, the letter pointed out that 90,000 doses have been allocated to a geographical area of more than 5 million people, many of whom live in refugee and displacement camps, lacking basic hygiene to stem the spread of COVID-19.

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