Over 200 UN staff in Syria infected with coronavirus – UN official, medics


A leaked letter by a top UN official in Syria said more than 200 UN staff members have been infected by COVID-19 in the country, as the global body steps up its contingency plans to combat the fast spread of the pandemic.

Imran Riza, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, on Tuesday told UN heads of agencies that the UN was in the final stages of securing a medical facility for treatment of cases of its own staffs.

“More than two hundred cases have been reported among UN staff members, some of whom have been hospitalised and three who were medically evacuated,” Riza said in the letter, which was leaked to Reuters from an infected local 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 the dozen UN agencies that oversee the country’s largest 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 Mar. 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 authorities deny that but admit testing is limited.

The United Nations 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 scores of 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. (Source: CNA)