Coronavirus Enters Syria’s Rukban Camp; 1000s Could Be At Risk

Coronavirus has reached the Rukban camp in southeast Syria, threatening thousands of displaced civilians

Humanitarian workers said two residents tested positive after they were taken to the US military base at Tanf on the Iraq border. One died and the other was returned to Rukban

There are about 12,000 people in the barren area of Rukban, near the Jordan border — 8,000 in the camp and 4,000 nearby. Residents say about half of the adults — an estimated 3,000 men and women — are showing symptoms such as persistent cough, headache, diarrhea, and fever. However, there are no tests for confirmation. The camp has no vaccinations, few masks, no hand sanitizers, and no drugs except paracetamol

Staff at the camp’s rudimentary clinic have just have enough masks for themselves. They are advising patients to consult via phone, with the instruction to avoid coming to the medical point in person

The US-supported, anti-Assad faction Maghawir al-Thawra, which provides security for the camp, has issued a series of measures to try and limit the virus. They include closure of schools until January 2, cancellation of all gatherings, no congregation in markets and shops, and social distancing

Anyone who has symptoms “should stay at home until their condition is confirmed, even if the symptoms are not serious”

SIEGE AND A MEDICAL CRISIS

Rukban has been besieged by Russia and the Assad regime since autumn 2018, with the main route cut off and only three UN aid convoys allowed since then. The Jordan border was closed in 2016 after an Islamic State suicide bombing, and the US military at Tanf has refused to provide assistance.

As a result, the camp has only a rudimentary clinic and few medicines, let alone the protective equipment and ventilators needed for a Coronavirus outbreak. Food and essential supplies, including winter-ready shelter, are in short supply. Disease is exacerbated by lack of adequate water and sanitation

The displaced fled to Rukban in 2015 from Homs Province in central Syria amid an Islamic State advance. The camp once held about 75,000 civilians, but Russia and the regime have used the siege and the threat of starvation and medical crisis to forcibly transfer many people back to Homs. The remainder have persisted, fearing detention, interrogation, and even “disappearance” if they return

Humanitarian activists have struggled to get even emergency cases to either Jordan or the Tanf base for treatment. In one instance, a woman was able to get an urgent Caesarean section, but another and her newborn son died in the camp.

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