More COVID-19 cases in Syria’s overcrowded rebel enclave

A member of the Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the "White Helmets" disinfects a room at a physiotherapy centre in Syria's rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib, on July 11, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

More COVID-19 cases in Syria’s overcrowded rebel enclave

  • The new infections raise the number of confirmed cases to three in the area
  • Observers fear the virus could spread easily in Idlib province

BEIRUT: At least two doctors in Syria’s opposition-held northwest have been infected with the coronavirus, a monitoring group reported Saturday, the latest confirmed cases in the overcrowded rebel enclave.
The new infections raise the number of confirmed cases to three in the area, where health care facilities have been devastated by years of civil war, and where testing has been limited due to scarce resources.
Observers fear the virus could spread easily in Idlib province, a concern compounded as Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, moved at the UN Security Council to reduce cross-border aid from Turkey.
Aid groups and UN agencies say such a reduction would hamper aid delivery of live-saving assistance amid a global pandemic.
Doctors following up on the cases say testing and contact tracing is underway to attempt to isolate and prevent the spread of the virus. The two new cases have been in contact with the area’s first confirmed case — a doctor who had moved between different hospitals and towns.
“The anticipation is a catastrophic outcome if there is no proper containment of the initial cases or proper isolation,” said Naser AlMuhawish, of the Early Warning and Alert Response Network that carries out testing and monitoring of the virus. “Don’t forget we are in a conflict zone. So doctors are already scarce and need to move between more than one place.”
The first case was reported Thursday and the hospital where the doctor works has since suspended its operations and quarantined patients and support staff to carry out testing. Meanwhile, hospitals in northwest Syria announced Friday they would be suspending non-emergency procedures and outpatient services for at least one week. Schools were to shut down until further notice. Before the confirmed cases, there had been only about 2,000 people tested for the virus.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council remained deadlocked over renewing the mandate for cross-border aid delivery. Russia is seeking to shut down at least one border crossing between the rebel-held enclave and Turkey, arguing that aid should be delivered from within Syria across conflict lines.
But the UN and humanitarian groups say aid for nearly 3 million needy people in the northwest can’t be brought in that way.
A divided Security Council failed for a second time Friday to agree on extending humanitarian aid deliveries to the area from Turkey as the current UN mandate to do so ended.
Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution backed by the 13 other council members that would have maintained two crossing points from Turkey for six months. A Russian-drafted resolution that would have authorized just one border crossing in the area for a year failed to receive the minimum nine “yes” votes in the 15-member council.
A new vote was expected Saturday. Germany and Belgium, who insist two crossings are critical, especially with the first COVID-19 cases being reported in Syria’s northwest, circulated a new text that would extend the mandate through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing into Idlib for a year. The mandate for the Bab Al-Salam crossing — which Russia wants to eliminate — would be for three months to wind down its activities.
Kevin Kennedy, the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian conflict, told The Associated Press that leaving only one crossing open would make aid delivery more time-consuming, more costly and more dangerous in a territory controlled by different armed groups. He said more access, not less, is needed and urged leaving the aid pipeline out of political considerations.
“We have taken a lot of measures, provided lots of equipment, but in an area with overcrowding, with 2.7 million displaced people, social distancing is hard,” he said late Friday. “The health infrastructure is weak, many (hospitals) have been bombed or destroyed, health officials have left the country or been killed in the fighting. So the situation is ripe for more problems should Covid-19 spread.”


Archaeologists unearth 27 coffins buried 2,500 years ago in Egyptian tomb

Updated 26 min 25 sec ago

Archaeologists unearth 27 coffins buried 2,500 years ago in Egyptian tomb

  • Egyptian antiquities officials believe the discovery to be the largest of its kind in the region

CAIRO: Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered 27 coffins that were buried more than 2,500 years ago in a pharaonic cemetery.

The sarcophagi were found at the Saqqara site in the governorate of Giza, south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Egyptian antiquities officials believe the discovery to be the largest of its kind in the region. Saqqara was an active burial ground for more than 3,000 years and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Initial studies indicate that the coffins and shrouds inside have remained tightly sealed since burial, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

The discovery was part of an Egyptian dig in the Saqqara area which unearthed an 11-meter-deep well containing colorfully painted wooden coffins stacked on top of each other along with other smaller artefacts.

Khaled Al-Anani, the Egyptian minister of antiquities, postponed announcing the discovery until he could visit the site himself, where he thanked teams for working in difficult conditions.

Ahmed Abdel Aziz, a professor of pharaonic archeology at a private university, said: “This new discovery is not the first in the Saqqara archaeological area. Archaeological discoveries have increased over the past years which draw attention to this region.

“This prompted many archaeological missions from many countries to work in this region, trying to probe the depths of this region and the treasures hidden inside it.”

Al-Anani said the increase in archaeological discoveries and the number of projects recently implemented by the Ministry of Antiquities were down to political will and exceptional support from the Egyptian government.

He pointed out the importance of resuming the work of 300 archaeological missions from 25 countries after a hiatus of a number of years, including some working in Egypt for the first time such as the joint Egyptian Chinese archaeological mission.

There were about 50 Egyptian missions working at sites in governorates throughout the country and Al-Anani praised their efforts in helping to unearth more evidence of ancient Egyptian civilization.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities, said that Saqqara was one of the most promising historical areas when it came to archaeological discoveries, adding that he planned to continue working in the area with his mission members to uncover more secrets and treasures of the past.

He noted that new finds during the current excavation season would have a positive impact on tourism in Egypt at locations such as Giza, Saqqara, Luxor, and Aswan.

Mohamed Abdel Hamid, vice president of the Egyptian Association for Tourism and Archaeological Development, said that the discovery was a testament to the architectural development of the area that could be seen in King Djoser’s collection. The pharaoh was found in a step pyramid which was the first tomb in Egypt to be built using stones.