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Coronavirus in Syria: Why people are not complying with self-isolation order in Syria’s al-Bab

A member of the Special Police Forces encouraging al-Bab residents to take the coronavirus danger more seriously - 28 March (Enab Baladi)

A member of the Special Police Forces encouraging al-Bab residents to take the coronavirus danger more seriously - 28 March (Enab Baladi)

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Aleppo – Asim Melhem

The local council and the “Special Police Forces” in the northern Syrian city of al-Bab have failed to force the closure of shops and markets in the city, as part of the measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Many residents of al-Bab were not happy about the local council’s quarantine procedures, which led to an armed clash on 28 of last March between the Turkish-backed “Ahrar al-Sharqiya” faction and the Special Police Forces, in which a civilian, two members of the faction, and a police officer were killed.

The city’s administrative authorities faced a problem in breaking up social gatherings and controlling the movement of people in the street markets and vendors, according to what the head of the al-Bab local council, Jamal Othman, said to Enab Baladi.

The city has not reported any coronavirus cases so far. Still, al-Bab’s health authorities have taken some infection prevention and control measures in public, and private hospitals in case COVID-19 infection is detected, such as imposing quarantines and conducting reliable coronavirus diagnostic tests.

Too poor to afford self-isolation

Activist Ammar Nassar, a resident from al-Bab city, told Enab Baladi that measures followed in economically and politically stabled countries are difficult to apply in Syria. He added, in case of confirmed coronavirus infections, people will abide by the self-isolation at their houses on their own.

Nassar also said there is no need to use force to impose the quarantine and close the shops, at least for now, for the situation is still under control.

He clarified that “it is not a refusal to implement the laws; however, people should be offered alternative solutions before being forced to close their shops.”

Abu Omar, a shop owner in the city market, told Enab Baladi about his lack of commitment to the calls of the self-isolation because he has to work to meet the high costs of living. He added that most people in the area work on a daily basis to make a living, and they cannot adhere to self-isolation rules amid the absence of a supporting entity to secure their minimum needs.

Imposing a curfew and closing shops and street markets without compensating day-workers and those affected by the decisions will lead to a major crisis in a country already on the top of the list for the world’s poorest countries, at 82.5 percentage according to the statistical data of the international “World By Map” website.

The website’s figures match those of the United Nations (UN), which estimated the proportion of Syrians below the poverty line at 83 percent, according to its annual report of 2019 regarding Syria’s most urgent humanitarian needs.

According to the report, 33 percent of the Syrian population suffers from food insecurity. An estimated 11.7 million Syrians need one of the different forms of humanitarian aid, such as food, clean water, shelter, health services, and education.

The activist pointed out that people’s adherence to procedures varies according to their level of awareness, and that this is common in many societies and not only in the Syrian case or in al-Bab city.

Nassar considered that the level of commitment to prevention procedures such as social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment is considered good, which indicates people’s awareness that would facilitate their acceptance of self-isolation if the situation worsens.

On the other hand, there are cases of extreme denial for the presence of the coronavirus, or the entry of confirmed infected patients to the city. According to Nassar, the existence of this category of people is usual in all countries.

Preventive measures in a crowded area

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Othman, the head of al-Bab local council, outlined the preventive measures taken by the council.

He mentioned several points, most important of which are the closing of border crossings with both of the Kurdish-Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) and the Syrian regime’s controlled-areas in coordination with the crossings’ administration.

Besides, disinfecting public facilities, hospitals, medical centers, restaurants, and schools. The procedures also included the closure of private schools and institutes, the suspension of Friday and congregational prayers in mosques, as well as breaking up social gatherings and crowding in public places, especially enclosed ones.

The council also decided on limiting the number of reviewers in official departments, postponing unnecessary administrative transactions, besides taking measures that would overall reduce congestion.

The measures also emphasized on the importance of personal hygiene and prevention means against the coronavirus, through launching an awareness campaign that included distributing flyers and hanging banners in the main streets of al-Bab city.

The city has witnessed several waves of forced displacement from Idlib’s areas, Aleppo, Homs, and Rif Dimashq province, leading to an increase in the population density of the city.

Nearly 82,752 people live in the city center in addition to 64,859 of internally displaced persons (IDPs), according to a census discussed by the head of the civil registration department of al-Bab city, Abdul-Razaq al-Abdul Razaq, with Enab Baladi late December 2019.

Al-Bab city has an area of 30 square kilometers (12 square miles). It is the largest city in Aleppo province after the city of Aleppo, with 146,000 inhabitants, according to the 2009 census conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Syria.

As for the subdistricts of al-Bab, the al-Rai, Tadef, Qabasin, and Baza’ah, the population is about 300,000.

Meanwhile, local councils and health directorates in northern rural Aleppo are active in carrying out awareness campaigns on the coronavirus and taking measures to prevent the transmission of the virus to the area.

Medical centers of the local councils of Afrin, al-Bab, and Jarablus also initiated awareness campaigns designed for doctors and medical organizations managers on 3 of last March in cooperation with the Health Directorate in the Turkish state of Hatay.

 

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