Coronavirus: first cases reported in Syrian camp housing ISIS families

Three health workers test positive in Al Hol camp where tens of thousands of people live

FILE PHOTO: A view of the al-Hol camp for internally displaced people in northeastern Syria where British-born Shamima Begum was discovered in 2019.  REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri/File Photo
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Three health workers in a displaced persons' camp in north-eastern Syria have contracted the novel coronavirus, the United Nations said on Thursday, the first reported infections in the vast tent city.

The Al Hol camp is home to tens of thousands of people, including the relatives of ISIS militants.

It is run by the autonomous Kurdish administration that holds most of the north-east 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 camp," said a spokesman for the UN Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha).

"The contact tracing process is ongoing. As a precautionary measure, only critical staff, with personal protective equipment, are allowed to operate inside the camp," David Swanson said.

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

"We fear that the virus could have spread to camp residents visiting health clinics," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

The latest infections raise to nine the number of Kurdish Red Crescent staff in north-eastern Syria who have contracted the virus, a volunteer at the organisation told AFP.

Nine years of war have battered healthcare provision across Syria, but the situation in the north-east 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 Thursday there were 944 confirmed infections and 48 deaths from Covid-19 in Syria, according to a tally by Worldometer.