An international aid group said Wednesday that closures aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic are preventing it from reaching 300,000 people in conflict zones across the Middle East, as the virus arrived in war-torn Libya and four more cases were detected in Syria.
The Norwegian Refugee Council said it was unable to reach people in Syria, Yemen and the Gaza Strip, where authorities have imposed strict measures to halt the spread of the virus. All have fragile health care systems that could be overwhelmed by an outbreak, and only Yemen has yet to report any cases.
“While governments are taking tough and much-needed measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, millions of refugees and displaced people still depend on humanitarian assistance,” said Jan Egeland, head of the aid group.
In northwestern Syria, hundreds of thousands of people are crammed into unsanitary tent camps, sheltering from the government offensive on the war-torn country’s last rebel stronghold. On Wednesday, the U.S. urged the Syrian government to halt its campaign so those displaced can access humanitarian aid. The U.S. also urged the Assad government to release thousands of civilians arbitrarily detained in crowded jails who are especially vulnerable to the virus. On Wednesday, Syria’s tally of cases rose to five and testing began after weeks of obstacles in the rebel-held province.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness. The virus is highly contagious and can be spread by those showing no symptoms.
Countries across the Middle East have imposed sweeping measures to prevent its spread, including closing their borders, cancelling flights and in some cases imposing round-the-clock curfews.
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