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Fear of coronavirus stalks camps for Syrians displaced by war

Fear of coronavirus stalks camps for Syrians displaced by war

AFP
Kafr Lusin, Syria
In a camp in northwestern Syria, Abdallah Yassin listens to a doctor explain how to avoid coronavirus infection, desperately hoping it will never reach his tent of 14 people.
“If the epidemic spreads in the camps, it will be a disaster,” the 57-year-old grandfather says.
Three million people live in Syria’s last major rebel bastion of Idlib, many of them families who fled homes elsewhere in Syria and are now reduced to living in camps without basic amenities.
Almost one million more have been thrown onto the roads since December, after the government launched a deadly offensive that has battered the region’s already dilapidated healthcare system.
The government on Sunday announced Syria’s first officially confirmed coronavirus case, sparking fears of the implications for the war-torn country, where many still live outside the control of the government.
As part of the effort to prevent the worst in the rebel-held Idlib region, a doctor is visiting Yassin’s camp in Kafr Lusin to raise awareness.
Always shield your sneezes, he tells a dozen people gathered around him, either listening carefully or reading flyers.
Before he hands out surgical masks, the doctor from Turkish aid group the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) reminds them that an infected person can show no outward symptoms for up to two weeks.
But Yassin is unconvinced that this advice will be enough to help.
“Instead of coming here and lecturing us, why don’t they set up a clinic for all these people,” says the patriarch with a greying beard and a traditional red-and-white chequered headscarf.
“There are thousands of people here. We sleep 14 in the same tent,” he says, trying to convey his alarm.
The virus is the latest threat to the three million people who live in jihadist-ruled Idlib, where a fragile truce has largely halted the government’s bombardment since the start of the month.
The region is dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, though other rebel groups are also present.
The IHH doctor, Ibrahim Tlass, agrees that the prospect of an outbreak in the camps is worrying.
“They would be the areas most at risk if the virus did start spreading,” he says.
“That’s where the population density is highest and where there’s the least awareness about the issue,” he tells AFP.

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