Displacement camps of northwestern Syria at risk of becoming coronavirus hotbeds.
Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud
COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rise in northwestern Syria despite several local efforts to reduce the spread of the virus.
Popularly known as the White Helmets, Syria Civil Defence (SDF) announced via Facebook on 2 September that four dead bodies were transferred from COVID-19 hospitals and buried according to precautionary measures.
Moreover, nearly 30 patients with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 were taken to isolation centers. And in the day before, five people died of COVID in specialized hospitals for COVID treatment and around 50 patients with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 were sent to isolation centers and hospitals.
This announcement came after the SCD reported, on 1 September, that more than 1,400 new coronavirus cases were recorded in northwestern Syria; the city with the highest rate of COVID-19 cases was Harem.
On 1 September, Syria’s Response Coordination Group(SRCG) published a table of coronavirus cases in northwestern Syria, distributed according to the risk level in the regions as follows:
The SRCG said on 27 August, that the city of Harem, sited in the governorate of Idlib, northwestern Syria, is one of the most severely affected areas, where the number of coronavirus cases surpassed 3,125.
Coronavirus cases could hit quite scary levels in the forthcoming period in northwestern Syria if no serious measures are taken. It is noteworthy that around 5,000 patients have already been reported.
On 31 August, the bodies of six people who died from COVID-19 infection were transported from hospitals specialized in treating COVID-19 patients and then buried by the SDC volunteers.
Furthermore, the SCD volunteers in protective gear transferred around 58 patients with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 to hospitals and isolation centers.
Simultaneously, the SCD continues its sterilization campaigns of public places and facilities. It also educates citizens on the importance of getting COVID-19 vaccines and continuing to take infection prevention steps even if they are fully vaccinated.
Transporting the dead
The media office director in the second directorate of the SCD teams, Muhammad Hamadeh, told Enab Baladi that the SCD teams buried some dead bodies before their COVID-19 PCR test results appeared. So, those who died were patients with the suspected novel coronavirus. However, after the results came back positive, then these cases were considered confirmed coronavirus deaths.
Hamadeh said that the SCD calculates the number of deaths occurring only in coronavirus isolation centers and hospitals, indicating deaths are not necessarily from the virus.
At the request of hospitals and isolation centers, specialized teams from the SCD bury these corpses while taking preventive measures for fear that the cause of death could be COVID-19 infection. This is then confirmed by the medical authorities represented by the Early Warning Network (EWN).
Where are they buried?
The coronavirus victims’ bodies are buried in sites designated by the SCD.
Hamadeh added that if there is no place left, the SDC volunteers have to bury them in any cemetery carefully. They follow routine infection prevention and control procedures when handling remains of persons that have died as a result of contracting COVID-19, such as the grave depth and the burial method, to avoid any possible effects of an unexpected spread of infection.
The SCD volunteers take the task of washing the deceased persons with COVID-19 before burial in hospitals and isolation centers— knowing they are usually only responsible for transporting and burying the dead.
Hamadeh pointed out most families of coronavirus victims are foregoing traditional death and mourning rituals to stop the spread of the COVID-19 infections. However, few families insist on holding funeral rites, which may cause a rise in the already escalating coronavirus cases in northwestern Syria.
Why Kafr Takharim and Harem?
After COVID-19 second wave hit northwestern Syria in early August, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 50 per day in the second week and 100 coronavirus infections per day in the third week. In the past few days, the coronavirus cases have reached a record high in northwestern Syria, especially in the two neighboring cities of Kafr Takharim and Harem.
Hamadeh attributed this to several factors. First, northwestern Syria reached its peak of infection over the last few weeks because several Syrian refugees in Turkey returned to Syria to celebrate the Eid al-Adha festival in August with their relatives and friends in Syria. Moreover, they did not practice preventive measures such as social distancing.
Kafr Takharim has experienced a population climb in recent years due to the various displacement waves.
In addition, the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading fast and driving new cases and hospitalizations. This further exacerbates the situation in Kafr Takharim.
The Harem area houses many displacement camps, which contribute to the rapid transmission of infection.
The SCD coordinates with the medical sector to get ambulances ready to stand by and set evacuation points for those infected with the coronavirus.
The SCD has also established 32 centers to respond to suspected COVID-19 cases and transfer them to hospitals and isolation centers.
In addition, the SCD is also working on a project for setting up an oxygen cylinder gas filling plant, personal protective equipment(Face masks, plastic face shields, isolation suits and gowns)manufacturer, and an incinerator for medical waste.
All production lines of these factories would serve the medical sector at a large scale.
Since last March, the SCD carried disinfection and sterilization operations throughout northwestern Syria and launched an awareness campaign among the residents regarding prevention, spread, and treatment of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around eight SCD teams, each composed of five volunteers, are participating in sterilization operations that cover northwestern Syria in light of expectations of an imminent explosion in the number of coronavirus cases.
The SCD indicated that all the preventive measures taken would not be sufficient to withstand giant waves of the spread of infection, noting that entire countries could not confront the virus.
A call to accelerate a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine
Muhammad Hamadeh points out that the SCD encounters many challenges in accomplishing its work goals. First, many hospitals and medical centers have been destroyed by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally. Medical personnel have also been targeted.
Moreover, the economic situation has also worsened, making implementing preventive measures that include physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and cleaning of high-touch surfaces in densely populated areas very difficult.
Hamadeh also highlighted that many overcrowded displacement camps are at risk of turning into a hotbed for coronavirus. At the same time, Hamadeh urged citizens to take preventive measures against the coronavirus.
The SCD called on the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) to expedite the vaccine’s introduction into northwestern Syria and secure sufficient vaccines for civilians as the only solution to confront the virus.
Civilians’ demand for vaccination increased with the start of the new peak and the spread of the Delta mutator.
The SCD teams help with transporting civilians wishing to receive the vaccine to private immunization centers.
Increases in coronavirus cases and supply of COVID-19 vaccines
On 1 September, the Idlib Health Directorate announced that there have been around 1,178 new infections, including 723 in Idlib, bringing the total number of infections to 40,449.
The directorate also recorded 200 new recovery cases, including 92 in Idlib, bringing the total recovery cases to 24,950.
22 Death cases were also registered in Idlib, bringing the total to 782.
The total number of deaths related to the coronavirus amounted to 22 in Idlib, bringing the total deaths to 782 cases.
The Idlib Health Directorate announced the launch of the vaccination campaign against the coronavirus on 1 May, after the first batch of the vaccine, consisting of 53,800 doses, arrived on 21 April.
The directorate also announced via Facebook on 3 September that the third batch of COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac, which included 358,800 doses, reached northwestern Syria via COVAX Facility.
Earlier on 17 August, northwestern Syria received the second batch, which contained 36,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The COVAX Facility of the WHO provides free vaccines to developing countries, including Syria.
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