First coronavirus cases reported in Syria's Al-Hol camp

The vast tent city is home to tens of thousands of displaced people who suffer malnutrition and disease, aid groups say.

Three health workers in a displaced people’s camp in northeastern Syria have contracted the novel coronavirus, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday.

They were the first reported infections in the Al-Hol camp, a vast tent city that is home to tens of thousands of people, including the relatives of ISIL fighters.

It is run by the autonomous Kurdish administration that controls most of northeastern Syria and has reported 54 cases of COVID-19 in areas under its control.

“On August 3, three health workers reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 at the Al-Hol IDP [internally displaced people’s] camp,” said OCHA in a press release.

“The contact tracing process is ongoing. As a precautionary measure, only critical staff, with personal protective equipment, are allowed to operate inside the camp,” it added.

A health official at the camp said the three infected staff work with the Kurdish Red Crescent in Al-Hol.

“We fear that the virus could have spread to camp residents visiting health clinics,” he said, asking not to be identified because he is not authorised to speak to the media on the issue.

Critical situation 

The latest infections raise to nine the number of Kurdish Red Crescent staff in northeastern Syria who have contracted the virus, a volunteer at the organisation told AFP news agency, asking not to be identified.

Nine years of war have battered healthcare provision across Syria, but the situation in the northeast is particularly critical, as the Kurdish authorities have been left to cope with the coronavirus pandemic largely unaided.

This has raised fears that any outbreak could swiftly escalate into an epidemic gripping the entire Kurdish region.

As of August 4, the Syrian government has confirmed 847 people have tested positive for COVID-19, including 46 people who died and 268 who recovered. 

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