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North-western Syria: Sarmin experiences for the first time Coronavirus lockdown 

The security forces of “ the Salvation Government” block the roads to the city of Sarmin in rural Idlib as part of preventive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus- 25 July 2020 (Enab Baladi- Youssef Ghribi)

The security forces of “ the Salvation Government” block the roads to the city of Sarmin in rural Idlib as part of preventive measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus- 25 July 2020 (Enab Baladi- Youssef Ghribi)

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Enab Baladi – Idlib

“The coronavirus lockdown imposed on the rebel-held town of Sarmin, prevented me from entering the city of Idlib, where my university is, to buy the rest of my books and lectures. I felt stressed out and afraid of the growing numbers of the coronavirus infection cases, and that Sarmin’s lockdown will last for more than 14 days. This means that I cannot take the exam that I am eagerly awaiting in my graduation year.”

With these words, Raghad Qaq, a student at Idlib University, described her situation to Enab Baladi after the coronavirus lockdown was imposed on the town of Sarmin in Idlib countryside. The lockdown entered into force on 25 July, after the first coronavirus case was recorded for a woman coming from the Syrian government-controlled areas. 

The suffering of the student, Qaq, does not vary significantly from Abdullah Mahmoud Stefan’s, a cyber cafe and cell phone shop owner. He told Enab Baladi that he was severely affected by the coronavirus lockdown “I cannot go out from the city if Idlib to purchase the items and supplies of my shop,” noting the availability of necessary materials such as bread and vegetables in Sarmin, amid shortages of meat and poultry.  

Negative impacts of coronavirus on small business owners 

Speaking with Enab Baladi, small business owners in the town of Sarmin said that the overall health status is reasonably good; there are plenty of health centers and bakeries operating in the town. Nevertheless, they feel isolated and disconnected from the outside world, mainly because the lockdown coincided with the preparations that precede Eid al-Adha or “Feast of Sacrifice” where the people begin to purchase sacrificial animals in addition to clothes and the Eid sweets. 

Shop owners in Sarmin were affected adversely by the sudden decision to impose coronavirus lockdown, especially, those that were waiting for the Eid season, as sales go up. 

“The coronavirus lockdown was necessary, but it negatively affected my store,” said Umm Muhammad, a women’s clothing store owner in the town.

Umm Muhammad relied primarily on Eid sales; she had hope for making good profits, but because of the lockdown, the store was temporarily shut down to prevent gatherings. Thus, she was financially affected more deeply by the pandemic, she bought the clothes for her shop, but was not able to sell them. 

This appears to have been answered by the local council in the town, as it opened a crossing on the first day of Eid al-Adha, on 31 July, for the exit and entry of the residents, but with specific conditions.

The council confirmed that the decision was taken following consultation between the opposition’s health ministry, the local council, and the concerned people in Sarmin and because the recent results of COVID-19 genetic PCR tests appeared negative, and both COVID infected, and healthy people stayed at home and followed the quarantine protocols. 

For his part, the head of the local council in Sarmin, Ali Takash, confirmed the opening of the crossing from 8:00 a.m to 7:00 p.m., for people aged between 20 to 50, while the old people are not allowed to leave their houses. 

Takash explained to Enab Baladi that there are sterilization mechanisms from “the Syrian Civil Defence” (SCD) that will be at the crossing, in addition to a medical team to take the temperature of people, noting that all the people have the right to leave and enter according to certain conditions.

Why was the quarantine imposed on the town?

The ministry of health affiliated to “the Salvation Government (SG) imposed a quarantine on 25 July and closed the roads leading to the town, east of Idlib, after a coronavirus infection case in the city for a teacher coming from areas under the control of the Syrian regime. 

The head of the local council of the town, Ali Takash told Enab Baladi that the imposition of the quarantine came because people did not isolate or quarantine themselves (they did not take preventive measures against COVID-19) after the first coronavirus case was recorded in the town. Therefore, the council cooperated with the services department of the SG and the health department to impose a full quarantine on the town.

Public warnings to control the spread of the coronavirus

The SG’s ministry of interior issued a statement, on 25 July, in which it demanded the residents of northern Syria to report immediately and urgently all returnees to the liberated areas, mainly by smuggling from the regime-controlled areas, to ensure that they are tested and quarantined to prevent the spread of the “Coronavirus.”

The ministry vowed to impose “maximum penalties” on those who cover up the returnees, and “beatings with an iron hand” on smugglers who threaten the safety of the residents of the north.

The first case of the coronavirus was recorded in northwest Syria on 9 July. The patient is a male 39-year-old physician at Bab al-Hawa Hospital on the Syrian-Turkish border. He entered Syria from Turkey on 25 June.

Weak response 

Humanitarian aid entered Sarmin four days after the imposition of the quarantine, Muhammad Hallaji, the director of “the Syrian Response Coordination Group (SRCG),” told Enab Baladi.

He added that the SRCG is still carrying out sterilization campaigns since the quarantine was imposed. Sarmin’s field hospital provided face masks to people, but they were not sufficient. 

Hallaj confirmed the entry of vegetable cars, foodstuffs, and hygiene kits for the people, while the Turkish “Red Crescent” pledged to secure 1500 bundles of bread every day until the end of the quarantine.

He considered that the aid was delayed from entering Sarmin, noting that “Everything provided is insufficient because people cannot do not their job for fear of infection. Therefore, the response remains weak compared to the general situation in the town.”

The director of public relations in the SG, Mohammad Salem, told Enab Baladi that the SG operating in Idlib and its countryside “provided quantities of daily vegetables, and masks and provided some relief work.”

Salem also talked about “Their efforts to secure fuel for the local council in order to continue the provision of services in Sarmin.” In addition to that, lifesaving humanitarian relief to people is provided to help the residents of Sarmin get through this challenging situation in quarantine, not only provide them with medical face masks.  

 According to figures of the ministry of health in the “Syrian Interim Government (SIG),” the number of recorded COVID-19 infections in the Syrian north was 31, without any deaths recorded, as of 31 July.

 

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