This report is produced by OCHA Syria in Damascus in collaboration with WHO Syria and Damascus-based humanitarian partners. The next report will be issued on or around 16 April 2020.
- Number of people confirmed by the Ministry of Health (MoH) to have COVID-19: 19 (including two fatalities, four recovered)
- Areas of concern: Densely populated areas, notably Damascus/Rural Damascus and those living in camps, collective shelters and informal settlements in northeast Syria (NES), as well as other areas including Deir-Ez-Zor, and where hostilities may be 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 and healthcare workers with inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
The global situation remains highly fluid. However, at the time of writing, 1,479,168 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 87,987 deaths (CFR=5.8 per cent) had been reported globally. While the United States has the most confirmed cases globally (425,889), Italy represents the most deaths to date (17,699). In the Eastern Mediterranean Region, more than 87,882 COVID-19 cases have been reported, including 4,583 deaths, 90 per cent of which occurred in Iran.
In Syria, 19 laboratory-confirmed cases have been reported to date. The first positive case was announced on 22 March, with the first fatality reported on 29 March. One further fatality was reported on 30 March. The most recent cases were announced by the MoH on 5 April. The MoH has also announced four recoveries to date.
As of 8 April, according to the MoH, around 950 tests have been conducted by the Central Public Health Laboratory (CPHL) in Damascus, including 17 from Deir-Ez-Zor and ten from Al-Hasakeh governorates. It remains a priority to enhance laboratory and case investigation capacity across Syria, including training of laboratory technicians and rapid response teams (RRTs).
Points of Entry
Border crossings remain impacted as Syria and neighboring countries continue implementation of precautionary measures. Most land borders into Syria are now closed, with some limited exemptions remaining (from Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon) for commercial and relief shipments, and movement of humanitarian and international organization personnel. International flights have been suspended to Damascus International Airport, as have all domestic flights. Tartous and Lattakia ports remain operational, with precautionary measures which have slowed down operations, including mandatory sterilization procedures, and minimum staff.
In NES, local authorities have recently relaxed the controls on the Fishkabour/Semalka informal border crossing to enable access for NGOs once a week; some partners have subsequently crossed with efforts ongoing to streamline crossings to maximize humanitarian impact. Tell Abiad and Al-Bukamal-Al Quaem border crossings are reported partially open for some commercial and humanitarian shipments, while Ras-al-Ain border crossing is closed.
Restrictions are also in place at most other crossing points inside Syria. Abu Zendin, Um Jloud and Awn Dadat in Aleppo are reported closed, as are Akeirshi and Abu Assi crossing points in Ar-Raqqa. Al-Taiha, Ghazawiyet Afrin and Deir Ballut in Aleppo, and Bab Al Hawa in Idleb, are reported as partially open with restrictions.
The Government of Syria (GoS) continues to implement a range of preventive measures to be imposed until at least 16 April. This includes a curfew from 6pm to 6am; a ban on travel between governorates and also travel within governorates to and from urban and rural centers, with some exemptions, including for emergency, humanitarian and essential services. All non-essential services remain closed, and public sector offices remain on reduced working hours. Some popular recreation areas, such as public parks in Damascus city and the corniche area of Tartous, have also been closed. On 2 April, a weekend curfew commenced, from 12pm to 6am every Friday and Saturday.
Some areas have been subject to total lockdowns including in Mneen, rural Damascus, and alSit Zaynab, an area of pilgrimage, also in Rural Damascus, until further notice, in addition to Al-Tay neighbourhood in Qamishli city. Additionally, visits to prisons and detention facilities continue to be suspended until further notice.
Similarly, local authorities in NES continue to implement curfew restrictions until at least 21 April, as well as closure of all non-essential public and private facilities, offices and shops. All gatherings and events remain cancelled. A decree released by local authorities stated that fines will be imposed (ranging from SYP 5,000-45,000) for curfew violation. In addition, judicial proceedings are suspended until at least 23 April.
Since mid-March, significant price increases and some shortages in basic goods (as much as 40-50 per cent in food staples) and personal sterilization items (face masks, hand sanitizers – up to 5,000 per cent increase) have been reported across Syria. Fuel prices (diesel and gas) also continue to increase, with the cost of diesel and gas in the informal market more than 160 per cent and 248 per cent higher respectively. The GoS has recently announced some items would be banned from export (eggs, milk, cheese, legumes, sterilization items) and imposed stricter measures to ensure retailers only sell some specified basic goods at official price limits; reports indicate some shops have been shut down for violating official limits. The exchange rate also further weakened since mid-March to the lowest point on record, closing at an unofficial rate on 25 March of SYP 1,325 to US $1, but has since slightly improved to around SYP 1,280 at the time of writing (representing a more than 50 per cent devaluation compared to a year ago). On 26 March, the Central Bank of Syria adjusted the official rate from SYP 438 to SYP 704, and announced that only the GoS Ministry of Trade would have access to the former rate, as a preferential rate to enable cheaper purchases of basic commodities.
The increase in food prices due to COVID-19-related factors – including a worsening informal exchange rate, panic buying, disrupted supply routes, slow replenishment of stocks, reduced shop opening hours and movement restrictions – is likely to increase vulnerabilities. Many businesses are shut or working on reduced hours, impacting employment and household income. While lack of employment affects many in society, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who are predominantly engaged in unskilled, daily wage labour, often with limited savings, who will be the most affected. Nutrition may become an increasing factor as food supplies continue to be affected, prices stay high or increase and people’s incomes and/or savings reduce, pushing poor families to negative coping mechanisms, including reducing the quantity and variety of food.
To better understand the scale of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, an interagency working group is assessing the impact on the supply chain in Syria and on the agriculture sector. Due to emerging challenges, it is likely that additional needs for agriculture sector support in the short to medium term will emerge.
A number of humanitarian partners have reported operational delays and disruptions due to preventive measures. As sectors have mapped and monitored impacts to programming, many have resumed assistance with adjusted modalities to reduce risks to beneficiaries and humanitarian staff. Examples include handwashing and sanitation facilities at distribution points, combining distributions (e.g. food, sanitation and NFIs together), measures to reduce overcrowding including utilizing community focal points and increasing distribution days, and appropriate use of PPE. Life-saving food assistance to 3.5 million people has continued following development of adjusted distribution modalities to ensure safety of beneficiaries and staff, and reproductive, maternal health, and GBV services are ongoing in safe and dignified manner, through provision or protective equipment, establishment of additional service delivery areas, and remote counseling.
However, slower delivery and temporary suspension of programs necessitated by new mitigation measures has had impacts. The Shelter sector estimates that 290,000 people will be affected by the slowdown in operations between March-May; and the NFI sector has estimated over 200,000 people will be affected by not receiving NFI distributions between March and April. A number of WASH interventions have either been suspended or constrained due to movement restrictions, affecting an estimated 2,650,000 people.
The most pronounced impact is on education programs and community-based services and activities, including in protection, livelihoods and psychosocial support programming (PSS), which are likely to remain suspended in line with authorities’ directives. While some limited education activities can continue (including self-learning, online learning and other initiatives to sanitize and rehabilitate schools), 450 community centers, child-friendly spaces and Women and Girls Safe Spaces (WGSS) providing specialized protection activities to 1.2 million people have been closed. For child protection, some alternatives have been established, including virtual case management for children in need of protection and awareness sessions through social media and WhatsApp.
UNFPA and implementing partners are also continuing activities, through one-on-one sessions for case management, PSS, individual counseling and consultations in addition to outdoor individual awareness raising initiatives on COVID-19. Also, while some WGSS activities were suspended, essential services continue in several locations, including case management, remote counseling services and information dissemination, using phone calls, WhatsApp and other internet-based means. Some vocational training sessions, normally held in UNFPA-supported WGSS, are also being done online. For new cases, reproductive health static clinics are functional, providing reproductive and mental health services including ante-natal care, post-natal care, family planning, and treatments for reproductive and urinary tract infections.
Specifically for UNRWA, from 5 April, non-critical health care services (routine dental and non-communicable disease check-up) have been suspended to reduce the risk of exposure, although vaccination services continue, and telemedicine support has commenced. Patients receiving medication for chronic diseases are receiving a two-month supply of medicine per visit, instead of the regular one-month supply. In education, self-learning and remote programmes are being implemented, and UNRWA PSS counsellors are working with teachers, students and parents via phone, WhatsApp and email. The UNRWA training center in Homs, in coordination with the Palestine Red Crescent, is supporting the production of face masks, which will be distributed to UNRWA front-line staff. Emergency cash assistance is also ongoing with preventive measures to reduce overcrowding in place.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.