Coronavirus surges in northeast Syria amid oxygen shortages
BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish-led authorities in northeastern Syria announced Thursday they will extend a partial lockdown for another week amid a surge in coronavirus cases. The extension comes as an international aid group warned of oxygen shortages in the neglected region of the war-ravaged country.
Northeast Syria has seen a sharp increase in virus cases and deaths in recent weeks. Earlier this month, authorities imposed a complete lockdown for 10 days, followed by a weeklong partial lockdown that ends Thursday.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, as the de facto self-governing Kurdish-run region is known, said the seven-day extension would include a curfew from sunset to sunrise, closing schools and universities as well as all crossing points with areas controlled by the government or insurgent groups. Cafes and markets will be closed while restaurants will only be open for delivery service.
On Wednesday, the health department reported 123 new cases and 14 deaths in the region, which is home to 5 million people and borders Turkey and Iraq. The new cases raise to 15,796 the total registered coronavirus cases in the region, including 571 deaths.
On Thursday, the International Rescue Committee warned of a severe shortage of testing supplies and oxygen in northeastern Syria, adding that this is putting the “region’s COVID-19 response in serious jeopardy.”
IRC said that in addition to the urgent need for more testing supplies, COVID-19 treatment facilities in the region “are also becoming overstretched — many are already at capacity and seven CTFs were forced to cease operating in March due to a lack of funding.”
The group warned of an acute shortage of oxygen in Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zour province, where at least one hospital has warned it is running out of medicines.
“Testing capacity in the northeast has never been sufficient, and now it may be lost altogether,” said Misty Buswell, Policy and Advocacy Director for the IRC in the Middle East and North Africa.
Last week, the Syrian government received a batch of 203,000 COVID-19 vaccines, part of which will be send to the northeast.
The World Health Organization said in March that it will oversee a coronavirus vaccination campaign, adding that the aim is to vaccinate 20% of the population by the end of 2021.