March 28, 2020
The Syrian government has said that travelers arriving in the country from Iran will be quarantined in specially-designated centers in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus. The announcement followed reports that some Syrian citizens were worried about people traveling into the country from places where the coronavirus outbreak has become a crisis — implicitly suggesting that Iranians coming to the country were considered a threat.
According to a video published by the official SANA news agency, Syrian Minister of Health Nizar Yazji said on March 19 that “those who arrived from Iran and are currently under quarantine at the Al-Duwair Center will be transferred to the airport hotel.”
Yazji explained that “the quarantine [center] is a place to reside, not a place for treatment… the place for treatment is in intensive care in hospitals, whereas Al-Duwair is a precautionary residence for 14 days. Samples will be taken from those staying there to ensure that they are not infected with the virus.”
The minister of health also indicated that the ministry was preparing four places in Damascus to quarantine people who have contracted coronavirus, and that the Duwair Center will remain a place for precautionary quarantine. Work on preparing the quarantine centers began about four days before his announcement during the week of March 22 and will take some time to be completed, he said.
The minister had initially stressed that, so far there had been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Syria, and warning that rumors about an outbreak were rife, and that some media outlets engaging in “yellow journalism” were publishing unsubstantiated and illegitimate reports about the spread of the virus in the country.
But Rami Abdel Rahman, the director of the United-Kingdom based information-gathering group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, accused the Syrian regime of denying the reality of the situation in the country, and of refusing to present accurate information about the spread of the virus. In direct contradiction to the government, he stated that there are confirmed cases of coronavirus in the governorates of Latakia, Tartous, Homs, and Damascus, and that more than 62 cases of the infection had been reported.
Then, on March 21, Syria reported its first case to Sana News Agency, leading to fears that the regime was covering up many more cases.
According to Yazji, Syria’s Ministry of Health is working tirelessly with epidemiological monitoring teams based in 1,126 centers in regions across the country to stop the spread of the virus, and has indicated that on Saturday, March 28, hotlines will be set up to facilitate communication between citizens and health officials in individual governorates about cases, including consultation and inquiries about the virus.
CNN reported that Abd al-Naseer Abu Bakr, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) team for the prevention of infectious diseases, has expressed his concern about the lack of reporting on registered cases of coronavirus in Syria and Yemen, adding that a “blast in the number of cases” could be expected.
Abu Bakr stated that all countries in the region have reported coronavirus cases with the exception of Syria and Yemen, a situation that he said WHO found extremely concerning, suggesting that that accurate monitoring was not taking place and that people could be at greater risk considering the general levels of health in the two countries due to war and poverty.