Syria's Assad warns of 'real catastrophe' if coronavirus cases spike

The government spent weeks refusing to acknowledge any cases before registering the first infection

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on MAY 4, 2020 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L) meeting with members of the government team tasked with handling the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in the capital Damascus.  -  == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==
 / AFP / SANA / - /  == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad said the country could face a “real catastrophe” if coronavirus cases spike and overwhelm health services.

The current low level of infections did not mean Syria had escaped the “circle of danger”, he said in an address to the government committee that oversees measures to curb the pandemic.

“These figures could suddenly spike in a few days or few weeks and we would see in front of us real catastrophe that exceeds our health and logistical abilities,” Mr Al Assad said.

The government imposed a nationwide curfew over a month ago after announcing its first officially confirmed coronavirus case following weeks of denying claims of a cover-up expressed by medical sources and witnesses who said there were many more cases.

Syria has now reported 44 confirmed cases and three deaths. UN bodies and humanitarian workers say the country is at high risk in the event of a major outbreak due to a fragile health sector and a lack of resources.

Under pressure to soften the economic impact on the sanctions-hit country ravaged by a nine-year civil war, the authorities have eased the lockdown in the past week and allowed people in many professions and businesses to return to work.

Of particular concern are the millions in Syria who live in war-ravaged provinces won back by the regime in scorched earth campaigns that specifically targeted hospitals and medical centres.

About three million civilians live in Idlib – many having fled from other provinces to escape government offensives – where medical services are under regular bombardment and lack even basic resources at the best of times.

Much of Syria’s unscathed medical infrastructure is in and around Damascus, as well as along coastal heartlands of the regime in Latakia and Tartous.

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