Coronavirus surges in northeast Syria amid oxygen shortages

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BEIRUT (AP) — Kurdish-led authorities in northeast Syria announced Thursday that they will extend a partial lockdown for another week amid a surge in cases of coronavirus. Meanwhile, as an international aid group has warned of oxygen shortages in the region.

Northeast Syria has been witnessing a sharp increase of coronavirus cases and deaths in recent weeks. Earlier this month, authorities imposed a complete lockdown for 10 days, followed by a weeklong partial lockdown that ends Thursday.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said the seven-day extension would include a curfew from sunset to sunrise, closing schools and universities as well as all crossing points with areas controlled by the government and insurgent groups. All cafes and markets will be closed while restaurants will only do delivery service.

On Wednesday, the health department said 123 new cases and 14 deaths were registered in the region, which is home to 5 million people and borders Turkey and Iraq. The new cases raise to 15,796 the total registered coronavirus cases in the region, including 571 deaths.

On Thursday, the International Rescue Committee warned of a severe shortage of testing supplies and oxygen in northeast Syria, adding that this is putting the “region’s COVID-19 response in serious jeopardy.”

IRC said that in addition to the urgent need for more testing supplies, COVID Treatment Facilities in the region “are also becoming overstretched — many are already at capacity and seven CTFs were forced to cease operating in March due to a lack of funding.”

It warned of an acute shortage of oxygen in Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zour, where at least one hospital has said it is running out of medicines.

“Testing capacity in the northeast has never been sufficient, and now it may be lost altogether,” said Misty Buswell, Policy and Advocacy Director for the IRC in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Syrian government received last week a batch of 203,000 COVID-19 vaccines, of which part will be send to the northeast.

The World Health Organization said in March that it will oversee a coronavirus vaccination campaign, adding that the aim is to vaccinate 20% of the population by the end of 2021.

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