The UNRWA Health Department is leading on the Agency’s COVID-19 response and continues to issue a one-page daily sitrep with the latest epidemiological figures.
While the number of officially announced COVID-19 cases remains relatively low in Syria, there has been a recent spike in cases and medical sources fear that the country’s limited testing capacity is masking the real extent of the outbreak (by 24 August, only 26,572 COVID-19 tests had been carried out). There are unconfirmed reports of healthcare facilities filling up and of rising numbers of death notices and burials indicating that actual cases far exceed official figures. What the official figures do show is that community transmission is widespread. Of the 2,765 cases confirmed by the Syrian Ministry of Health (MoH), as of 31 August, including 629 recoveries and 112 deaths, the majority cannot be traced to a known source. Rising patient numbers are adding pressure to an already fragile health system.
During August, the UNRWA education programme focused on getting children back to learning. HQ Education Department has worked alongside the five Field offices to support the planning for the 2020/21 new school year, taking into account the challenges of the COVID-19 virus and the resource constraints of the Agency. Different options have been explored for both Catch Up learning and for the new academic year. The only way forward – if social distancing is to be achieved in classrooms and schools – is the blended learning modality that combines school-based and remote learning. The logistics of its design and implementation are challenging, with decisions having to be made about how much remote learning is feasible for different ages of children and different school subjects. Key surveys and lessons learned from the school closure during the last academic year have shown that any approach to remote learning must not solely rely on high end technology as UNRWA students face challenges with access to devices, internet connectivity and basic infrastructure.
From 20 April to late May UNRWA produced five Weekly Updates on its COVID-19 response and then two Fortnightly Updates (25 May-7 June and 8-21 June). These Updates are now being produced on a monthly basis. In addition, a summary of the Agency’s response covering March to June has been issued.