This report is produced by OCHA Syria in collaboration with WHO Syria and Damascus-based humanitarian partners. The next report will be issued on or around 28 March 2020.
Number of cases of COVID-19 confirmed by the Ministry of Health: 5
Areas of concern: Densely populated areas, notably Damascus/Rural Damascus and areas where hostilities are ongoing making sample collection more challenging.
Populations of concern: All groups are susceptible to the virus. However, the elderly (those 60 years and above) and people with underlying health conditions are particularly at risk; as are vulnerable refugee and IDP populations including in northeast and northwest Syria, including in collective shelters, informal settlements and camps. Healthcare workers with inadequate personal and protective equipment (PPE) are also at risk.
The situation remains highly fluid. However, at the time of writing, 194 countries, areas and territories had reported 413,467 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 18,433 deaths (CFR=4.4 per cent). Italy represents the most deaths in one country to date (6,820). In the Eastern Mediterranean Region, more than 29,359 COVID-19 cases have been reported, including 2,005 deaths, the vast majority occurring in Iran. In Syria, one case – a traveler who was reported as being tested on arrival – was reported on 22 March as testing positive for COVID-19. On 25 March, the Ministry of Health announced a further four cases, making the total number five.
Points of Entry
Border crossings have been impacted as Syria and neighboring countries implement precautionary measures. International flights have been announced suspended to Damascus International Airport; with mandatory quarantine measures for travelers arriving from some countries put in place. The MoH has conducted entry screening at land crossing points and airports (Damascus, Lattakia and Qamishli) prior to their closures.
Since 26 January, the Self Administration has closed the Fishkabour/Semalka informal border crossing to all non-emergency traffic, with one day a week humanitarian exemptions. On 23 March the Self Administration announced these permissions would be revoked and the border shut until further notice.
Most land borders into Syria are now closed, with some limited exemptions (from Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon) for commercial and relief shipments, and movement of humanitarian and international organization personnel. Some restrictions have been reported at other crossing points inside Syria including in the northeast at At-Tabqa and Al-Taiha points, where medical teams are deployed to carry out screenings, with restrictions on civilians, goods and trucks. Further, entry/exit movement in Tell Abiad is reported to be limited to traders, humanitarian workers and administrative personnel.
The Shannan crossing in Ar-Raqqa has also been closed, as has Abu Zendin and Aoun Dadat crossing point (north rural Menbij). Despite the official directive around the closure of the borders, sporadic movements with some level of screening at some crossings has been reported.
The Government of Syria (GoS) has imposed a range of preventive measures. On 24 March, the GoS announced a curfew would come into effect the next day from 6pm to 6am. In addition, all schools, universities, and institutes (private/public) are closed until at least 2 April 2020 (albeit with some education programs continuing online). Friday prayers and gatherings at mosques have been suspended until further notice, as have all major events and gatherings; additionally all restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, cultural and sporting clubs are closed. Public sector offices have reduced working hours and imposed a 40 per cent reduction in work force. On 22 March the GoS commenced a sterilization campaign in schools, prisons, public areas such as parks and public transport in major cities; and for ships docked at port. In addition, parliamentary elections have been postponed from 13 April to 20 May. Similarly, the Self Administration has ordered curfew restrictions on the general public, in addition to the closure of schools, universities and institutes (including educational activities in IDPs camps) until further notice, with sterilization campaigns undertaken at schools and public offices. All non-essential services and shops have been ordered closed, in addition all gatherings and events have been ordered cancelled.
In recent days, price increases and some shortages in basic goods (around 10-15 per cent) and personal sterilization items (face masks, hand sanitizers – up to 5,000 per cent increase) was reported across Syria. The exchange rate has also further weakened in past days to the lowest point on record, closing at an unofficial rate on 25 March of SYP 1,325 to US $1; the official rate remains at around SYP 438. The GoS has announced a number of measures to mitigate shortages of basic goods and also overcrowding at places including bakeries.
A number of humanitarian partners, including UN agencies, INGOs and NNGOs have reported operational delays and disruptions due to preventive measures. Of note, a number of education programs and community-based services and activities, including in protection, livelihoods and psychosocial support programming, have been suspended. Several health partners have indicated that mobile medical clinics or other services have been suspended or reduced as teams work to implement precautionary work modalities. Some field visits and non COVID-19 trainings have been cancelled, and some partners have reduced staff presence. Partners have also planned for distribution modalities to reduce overcrowding to mitigate risk of transmission. OCHA is monitoring and working closely with partners including sectors to develop guidance on appropriate cautionary measures. The Syria Humanitarian Fund is also working with partners and will accommodate programmatic changes (no-cost extensions) if deemed necessary.