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Syrian Arab Republic: COVID-19 Response Update No. 15 - 16 February 2021

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This report is produced by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in collaboration with humanitarian partners. The next report will be issued at the beginning of March.

HIGHLIGHTS

• As of 16 February, the Government of Syria Ministry of Health (MoH) has announced 14,906 COVID-19 cases in the GoS, including 8,754 recoveries and 981 deaths.

• In northeast Syria (NES), 8,537 cases of COVID-19 have been reported as of 16 February.

• In northwest Syria (NWS), 21,072 cases of COVID-19 have been reported as of 16 February.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

In Government of Syria (GoS) controlled areas of Syria, 14,906 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported by the MoH to date: 7 in Ar-Raqqa; 35 in Al-Hasakeh; 59 in Deir-Ez-Zor; 248 in Quneitra; 708 in Hama; 839 in As-Sweida; 937 in Dar’a; 1,128 in Tartous; 1,457 in Rural Damascus; 2,098 in Lattakia; 2,237 in Aleppo; 2,245 in Homs; and 2,908 in Damascus.

The MoH also announced 981 fatalities and 8,754 recoveries.

Highlighting the particular risks faced by healthcare workers, the MoH has reported 459 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19, almost double the number since our last report. This includes 22 healthcare workers who have sadly died. The toll of affected healthcare workers underscores – given Syria’s fragile healthcare system with already insufficient qualified personnel – the potential for its overstretched healthcare capacity to be further compromised. Humanitarian actors continue to receive reports healthcare workers in some areas do not have sufficient PPE and the ongoing high needs for preventative items.

Since reopening in September, sharp rises of cases in schools have also been recorded, with 2,124 cases reported up to 14 January; including at least 20 reported deaths; eight more since our last report. Of those affected, 1,263 were reported to be teachers/administrative staff, and deaths were reported to have included 11 teachers and three school doctors. These cases also highlight the challenges of preventing transmission in schools, particularly given the overall context of overcrowded classrooms, shortfalls in teachers, and poor/damaged infrastructure. Along with sector partners, WHO and UNICEF continue to strengthen further COVID-19 preventive actions in schools, including through teacher and school health worker training, PPE distributions, and promotion of infection prevention and control (IPC) measures.

Overall, while official numbers remain relatively low, it is clear that Syria's epidemiological situation has rapidly evolved, and community transmission is widespread. Epidemiological analysis indicates the emergence of the second COVID-19 wave in Syria from mid-December 2020. In December, the caseload was the highest reported to date in a single month (3,547).

While daily reported cases have tapered off throughout January (2,564 as of 31 January), it still represents the second highest month since the beginning of the pandemic. As earlier reported, humanitarian actors have received ongoing unverified reports concerning additional possible cases. Given the limited/insufficient testing across Syria, it is likely the actual number of cases far exceeds official figures, with significant numbers of asymptomatic and mild cases, in particular, going undetected.

In NES, as of 16 February, there have been 8,537 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of these, 6,022 are currently recorded as active, 2,095 have recovered, and 419 deaths (264 among lab-confirmed cases). Although there has been a significant decline in the number of new cases recorded and the proportion of samples returning positive results, and despite a reduction in transmission over the last two months, the case data does not provide an accurate reflection of infection prevalence. Challenges related to surveillance and detection capacity persist, while under-reporting due to social stigma and/or evolution of people’s health-seeking behaviours further explains the low number of confirmed cases and tests conducted over recent months. There remain significant concerns among the humanitarian community around the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 in NES, particularly against the backdrop of new more infectious virus variants combined with increased complacency among the population and local authorities the risks presented by COVID-19 in NES.

The downward trend in new cases of COVID-19 first witnessed in November has continued over the last two months with a month on month reduction of new cases and tests. The 7-day rolling average has also declined significantly from over 50 per cent at the peak of transmission, to just 12 per cent as of 31 January. However, although the reduction in new cases and the positivity rate does indicate a decline in transmission, the low levels of testing (with just 228) tests conducted over the 7-days to 31 January does hamper efforts to establish an accurate picture of infection prevalence in NES.

In NWS, as of 16 February, a total of 21,072 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported. The total number of COVID19 associated deaths is 407. Of confirmed cases, 2,210 living in camps (10.5 per cent of the total). Out of the total number of cases, 17,000 have recovered, and 3,416 are active cases. Just over eight per cent (1,548) of the total number of cases have been health care workers (including physicians, dentists, nurses, midwives and various medical technicians), and another four and a half per cent (965) are other staff working in healthcare facilities/community health workers were infected.

Since the first case was confirmed on 9 July 2020, a total of 81,083 samples have been tested, with a test positivity rate of 25.9 per cent. In recent weeks the test positivity rate has declined significantly, along with new cases.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.