Syria's Kurdish-led northeast confirms first coronavirus death

The administration accused the WHO of not having immediately informed its officials

A worshipper lights a candle outside the closed Syriac Orthodox Church of the Virgin Mary as he marks Palm Sunday amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the northeastern Syrian Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli, on April 12, 2020.  / AFP / DELIL SOULEIMAN

A man in his fifties has become the first person to die from the novel coronavirus outbreak in the Kurdish-dominated northern part of war-torn Syria, UN officials said on Friday.

The administration of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region accused the World Health Organisation of not having immediately informed its officials, saying the UN agency and the Syrian authorities would be to blame for the spread of the virus.

The UN humanitarian agency Ocha said it received notice on Thursday of the death from WHO, which was not immediately available for comment.

The WHO "provided information indicating that a fatality at Qamishli National Hospital in northeast Syria on 2 April had subsequently tested positive for Covid-19," Ocha said on a Twitter post.

The dead man was said to be 53 years old.

A WHO regional spokesperson said the positive test result was reported by the Syrian government health ministry on April 2, and that active surveillance was being carried out in northeast Syria to probe for other potential cases.

"Contact tracing of the patient's close contacts was conducted, and all were reported negative. However, another family member is currently reportedly also in hospital with symptoms of Covid-19 with test results pending," said WHO spokesperson Inas Hamam.

The Kurdish-led administration said it was "dangerous" that their health authorities had not been informed directly when the case was first confirmed.

"The international organisation knows well that the Syrian authorities do not cooperate with the autonomous administration," it said in the statement.

Relief organisations have expressed concern about the coronavirus pandemic reaching northeast Syria, where health infrastructure has been shattered by war and medical supplies are limited.

An official at the Qamishli National Hospital, which falls under the control of Syria's central government in Damascus, denied earlier on Friday the existence of any coronavirus cases so far at the hospital.

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