UN humanitarian chief warns of shortfalls in Syria's response to COVID-19

UNITED NATIONS -- UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock on Wednesday warned that COVID-19 may bring tragedy to Syria given its lack of capacity.

There are 43 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Syria and three deaths, he told the Security Council in a virtual briefing.

These figures may sound very low compared to those being recorded in New York. But if the virus is behaving similarly in Syria to how it has elsewhere, then tragedy beckons, he warned.

"We cannot expect a health care system decimated by almost a decade of war to cope with a crisis that is challenging even the wealthiest nations. We cannot expect mitigation measures to succeed where millions are displaced in crowded conditions, without adequate sanitation, and no assets or safety net to fall back on," said Lowcock.

Testing capacity remains very limited in Syria despite some modest increase, he said.

Areas of particular concern include camps and other crowded areas of displacement, which typically have insufficient access to water and sanitation.

As in other countries, the impacts of measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus are likely to be greatest on the most vulnerable. Since mid-March, some areas have seen average price increases of 40 percent to 50 percent for food staples. That compounds the impact of Syria's severe economic crisis, said Lowcock.

COVID-19 and its ramifications will become a multiplier of humanitarian needs in Syria. More than ever, this demands a response that uses every possible means of reaching people in need and ensures that measures taken outside Syria, which would restrict access to essential medical and other related supplies, are reorganized so that they do not have a residual effect, he said.

That will require a complete and immediate nationwide cease-fire; supplying critical medical items previously provided through al-Yarubiyah border crossing from Iraq; and a renewal of the cross-border authorization for northwest Syria.

In its latest re-authorization, the Security Council reduced the cross-border aid delivery mechanism from four crossings to two, slashing al-Yarubiyah from Iraq and al-Ramtha from Jordan.

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