Millions in Syria’s Idlib have just one coronavirus testing machine – report

Idlib, the northwest Syrian province where the last opposition groups in the country are holding out against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, is a “sanitary ticking time bomb” because it is severely underprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, Al Arabiya reported.

The province has just one COVID-19 PCR test machine and 2,000 testing kits for a population that has more than doubled from the 1.5 million people living there when the Syrian conflict began in 2011, Al Arabiya said.

“As of March 24, only 42 people have been tested so far. The province has the capacity for 10 daily tests, which is too little for five million people residing in Idlib and surrounding opposition areas,“ the outlet quoted Nawar Shaaban, a Syria analyst at the independent think tank Omran Dirasat, as saying.

Health workers have set up three quarantine centres in the province, and 25 more could be established if called for, but these are only makeshift centres. And, with only 130 ambulances, 500 doctors and around 120 free respirators, the province is far from equipped to handle the pandemic, said local journalist Brahim Idlibi.

Shaaban warned that some 3 million people could be infected and as many as 450,000 people could require treatment, meaning that the limited facilities in the province would be overwhelmed.

“We believe that 100,000 to 150,000 people will have to be hospitalised in intensive care, a capacity that we do not have, with only 201 units available,” he said.

The spread of the virus could put millions of people who have been displaced to Idlib from violence in other parts of Syria and who now live in impoverished and unhygienic conditions at great risk.

Some 1.4 million people have already been pushed to take shelter near the border with Turkey after Assad’s forces launched offensives in the region this year, Idlibi said.

Many of those displaced people live in makeshift camps near the border, and international medical aid organisation Doctors Without Borders has warned that the spread of COVID-19 in these areas would be catastrophic, calling on Turkish authorities to help bring essential supplies and staff to the northwest Syrian province.