Coronavirus burden is falling heavily on people of As-Suwayda, amid governmental inaction
As-Suwayda – Rayan al-Atrash
“I wear a mask several times a week because I cannot afford to buy a new one every day, I give priority to ensure food for my children instead of buying a mask,” Muhammad al-Faris (who uses a pseudonym for security reasons), a resident of the city of As-Suwayda, tells Enab Baladi, about his suffering with the high prices of personal protective equipment against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
On 29 May, As-Suwayda recorded the first case of COVID-19 infection, as reported by the Health Directorate in the governorate. Since that date, the number of coronavirus cases has been growing; 47 new cases of COVID-19 and three related deaths were recorded in various parts of the governorate as of the date of preparation of the present report, according to the statistics of the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Health.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, a doctor from the emergency department unit in the “National Hospital” in As-Suwayda who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons said that the numbers announced by the Health Directorate in the governorate are “not accurate,” and that the confirmed coronavirus cases are “more than the declared.”
According to Assistant Director of Health, Dr. Ahmed Habas confirmed in a post on his personal Facebook page that “The number of COVID-19 cases reported in Syria is much less than the real number.”
High costs of personal protective equipment
The high number of people infected with the coronavirus in different parts of Syria coincided with the increase in the prices of the materials needed to prevent the virus, as the price of a box of 100 gloves increased from 800 Syrian pounds (SYP- 0.38 USD) to 25, 000 SYP (11 USD), while the price of a pack of 50 masks jumped from two 2,000 (0.9 USD)with the beginning of the virus spread to 20,000 SYP (9.5 USD)currently.
The exchange rate of the US dollar is 2,200 SYP, according to “Syrian Pound Today,” a Syrian Pound tracking website.
An estimated 83 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line, according to the United Nations statistics.
According to Numbeo, the world’s largest cost of the living database, the average monthly salary in Syria is 90 USD.
Several pharmacists in As-Suwayda, with whom Enab Baladi met, confirmed that the pricing of protective products such as masks and others is set by the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Health.
Assem Tayfour, an industrialist who owns several companies in the industry and trade sectors, linked the high prices of masks to the decision to open the door of opportunities to export them.
He explained that the decision was taken at the request of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which contributed to the increase in their prices.
Tayfour said, “What’s worse, an industrialist introduced an electronic machine to produce masks, placed in al-Debs Company, which produces about 300 masks per minute, but the decision came to stop and remove the machine from the factory.”
Tayfour asked why it was stopped, noting that it does not cost the government a single SYP.
The people of As-Suwayda are suffering to cover their basic daily requirements, in light of the unprecedented rise in prices. Therefore, the purchase of prevention means against the coronavirus constitutes an additional burden that exacerbates their suffering. Not to mention that they have to stand in crowded queues for long periods to buy essential commodities.
Citizen “Abu Basil” (a pseudonym) told Enab Baladi about his suffering in order to obtain one bundle of bread, saying, “I go out every day early in the morning to buy a bundle of bread, and I wait for more than an hour with dozens of people until my turn comes in front of the automated bakery in the city.”
Abu Basil added, “I wear a face mask without gloves due to their high prices, and I use my masks many times for a whole week.”
He pointed out that most of those who stand daily in front of the bakery do not wear masks, not even gloves. They do not take social distancing seriously because “The Syrian people can only rely upon God and pray for the coronavirus to vanish.”
A number of the people of As-Suwayda, who spoke to Enab Baladi, unanimously agreed on the government’s failure to take sufficient measures to ward off the spread of COVID-19 infection, demanding that the Syrian government must fulfill its responsibilities before its people.
Abu Mahmoud, a vegetable seller in the city, said in an interview with Enab Baladi, “The government has an obligation to secure the necessary materials and equipment to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and distribute them free of charge to the people because of their high price, especially since a large segment of the people cannot buy them.”
He added, “The government should impose a blanket lockdown to stem the outbreak of COVID-10, and provide the citizens with basic requirements of their daily life and deliver them to their homes just like what most countries of the world have done, However, no matter what we demand and how loud our voices are, we are used to the fact that the citizen is the last thing our government thinks of.”
In the problematic phase that Syria is going through in general and As-Suwayda in particular, many campaigns have been launched in the city to try to control the spread of COVID-19, provide assistance, and raise awareness of the risks of the virus.
Enab Baladi monitored the “We Can Do It” campaign, which was launched at the beginning of the “coronavirus” outbreak, with the aim of distributing baskets of essential health products or protective clothing and equipment.
A volunteer in the campaign, Ali al-Kader (a pseudonym for security reasons), told Enab Baladi that the volunteers in the campaign communicate with specialists and experts, and provide responses in cooperation with health experts.
According to the volunteer, the campaign still continues, as COVID-19 preparedness, response, and control plan are underway in the areas of the highest density of COVID-19 cases. Nearly 100 donation baskets will be distributed in the countryside of As-Suwayda within the awareness campaign, in addition to 12 liters of alcohol and vitamin packs.
Besides, 20 pieces of protective clothing, masks, and gloves will be handed out for cleaning workers.
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