More than 200 United Nations staff members have been infected by COVID-19 in Syria as the global body steps up plans to combat the spread of the pandemic in the war-torn country, medical workers and UN officials said.
UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria Imran Riza last week told UN heads of agencies in a letter that the UN was in the final stages of securing a medical facility to treat the cases.
“More than two hundred cases have been reported among UN staff members, some of whom have been hospitalised and three who were medically evacuated,” the letter said.
Reuters news agency on Monday said the letter was leaked to it by an infected local UN staff member.
Humanitarian workers and medics said the real number of cases is considerably higher, including the hundreds of staff employed by NGO partners working for nearly a dozen UN agencies that oversee the country’s humanitarian relief operations.
Riza said there had been a ten-fold spike in infections in Syria in the two months since he last briefed staff, referring to health ministry figures that say there have been 3,171 cases and 134 deaths since the first case was reported on March 23.
“The epidemiological situation across the country has changed considerably,” Riza said.
Damascus-based medics and relief workers are sceptical of official figures, saying the authorities are covering up the true extent. The authorities deny that, but admit testing is limited.
The UN has expressed concern about the spread of the coronavirus in a country where the health infrastructure has been shattered by war and medical supplies are limited.
Independent medics and relief workers say many doctors and medical workers have died in recent weeks.
Witnesses and cemetery officials say there had been a tripling of burials since July in a cemetery that lies south of the capital, where NGOs and medics say most cases are concentrated.
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