Although no Covid-19 case or death has been officially registered in the country, the Syrian government announced a series of exceptionally unusual emergency measures ahead of any potential arrival of the most horrifying pandemic for decades to hit dozens of nations both east and west.
The new measures affect all walks of life and add an additional cumbersome burden and extra challenges for both government and people in a country already ravaged by nine years of war, destruction, sanctions, economic hardship, shortages and a chain of austerity measures.
Syria’s Stringent Measures Taken Against Coronavirus
The Syrian cabinet held an emergency meeting Friday and came out with a set of resolutions and what it described as “additional precautionary measures that aim to limit as much as possible, the possibility of coronavirus spreading throughout the country”. Precautions and measures included:
a- Suspension of both private as well as state-run universities, schools and technical institutes or 20 days ending Thursday April 2; the disinfection of student dormitory units in a way that ensures safety and healthy accommodation for students.
b- Reducing to 40% the number of public sector staff and admin on shift-basis, shortening working hours (9am -2 pm) and suspension of fingerprint systems for one month.
b-Ministers are required to maintain proper performance at ministries and institutions that provide economic services, with the minimum number of workers and staff for 15 days. It also asked the Ministry of Justice to bring forward the seasonal judiciary recess to start as of next week.
c- Technicians and production workers in both the public and private sectors will continue their duties as usual after providing them with both the medical as well as preventive care on location along with the adequate medical staff to carry out regular and necessary tests on a continuous basis.
d- Suspension of all scientific, cultural, social and sporting events that require gathering of people, strict prevention of crowds in cafes and restaurants, closure of public services halls (used for weddings, funerals etc.) and implementing a plan to sanitize public transport.
e- Expanding preparations to equip medical quarantine centers – average 2 in each governorate -with all necessary medical as well as human resources, and appointing the medical team allocated to each and every center. Post graduate and final year medical students of all specializations shall be attached to hospitals and medical facilities when the need arises, and private university hospitals shall be put at the disposal of the Syrian Ministry of Health when needed.
f- Emphasizing the necessity to uplift the readiness of pandemic monitoring and investigative teams that work round the clock at air, sea and land border crossings and entrance points, in order to investigate and carry out necessary tests for the Corona virus. Instructions also included the need to publicly, transparently and accurately publish any new information regarding the pandemic and any relative development in Syria as well as announcing any proven coronavirus infection case immediately after registering it.
Turkish and Rebel-Controlled Areas Follow Government Lead
So-called Local Councils – appointed by Turkey – in northern parts of Syria run by pro-Ankara militias said in a statement Friday that “all schools inside the areas of Operation Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch and Peace Spring – Turkish codenames for offensives launched inside Syria over the past few years — will be closed down schools for the next two weeks” as a precaution against the threat of coronavirus which is spreading rapidly. The statement also explained that the decision to shut down schools would allow for the disinfection of such educational facilities.
Closures of educational institutes will affect millions of Syrian students of all ages and levels, exams might end up being delayed or even cancelled should the emergency measures continue. Syrian president Bashar al Assad also postponed the parliamentary elections due on April 13 to May 20 because of the situation. Although the pandemic has so far claimed the lives of some 5000 victims worldwide so far, and hit well over 100 countries and territories, very few nations in the region have been clean so far; Syria, Yemen and maybe Libya. Paradoxically, the very three countries that have been war-torn over the much of the last decade.
The WHO (World Health Organization), which recently declared the coronavirus outbreak a “pandemic,” says that over 132,500 cases have been confirmed worldwide since it all started off in Wuhan, China last December. Although the package of emergency resolutions and measures taken by the Syrian government two days ago has caused a public sense of anxiety among millions here, that fact that no confirmed COVID-19 case or death in Syria has been registered so far will help Syrians breath a cautious sigh of relief, at least for the time being.