Coronavirus Update: First Case in Northeast Syria as More Businesses Reopen (free article)

The past week saw a modest uptick in Syria's confirmed Covid-19 cases, but the apparently slow infection rate has allowed the government to start reopening some shops and official agencies.

As of April 21, the number of Syrians who tested positive for the Coronavirus increased to 42, up from 29 a week earlier. The number of deaths rose from two to three, while those who have recovered from the virus increased from five to six.

All positive cases were recorded in Damascus and its countryside, according to Minister of Health Nizar Yazigi, which probably means that most of Syria’s testing capacity is in and around the Syrian capital.

The first positive case in the northeast was also announced—a 53-year-old who later died from the disease. The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) meanwhile reiterated its criticism of the World Health Organisation, which it accuses of not cooperating in expanding local testing and treatment capacity. In Idlib and areas under Turkish control, no positive cases have been reported.

The Ministry of Health also said that 2,336 people had been quarantined in 33 official quarantine centres across the country between February 05 and April 20, most of whom have now left. There were 341 patients currently under medical care, it said.  The number of specialised laboratories stands at five, including two in Damascus and one each in Lattakia, Homs and Aleppo.

The ministry said it had received a donation of testing kits from China. While the local media reported about the delivery extensively  and an official delegation was even sent to the airport to receive it, images of the donation – including just two small cartons – were ridiculed by many Syrians.

Meanwhile, Russian news agencies reported that Moscow had offered Syria 50 ventilators and 10,000 testing kits, much higher numbers than China provided. An additional 150 ventilators are forthcoming, according to the  reports. If true, this would significantly boost Syria's capacity from an estimated 325 ventilators currently.

Despite the past week’s increase, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases remains very limited in Syria. The absence of testing is one factor, but it is clear from various sources and anecdotal evidence that Syrian hospitals are not under pressure, and that the overall situation is incomparable with those witnessed in Europe or the United States, for instance.

So far, there has been no convincing explanation for this situation, which is similar to neighbouring Lebanon’s. The youth of the Syrian population has been put forward as one factor, along with the country’s warmer climate. However, there is no definitive scientific proof that these are mitigating factors, and they are not sufficient to explain the huge gap between the current number of cases in Syria  and other countries with seemingly small infection rates, and in those countries with high rates, as seen in Europe.

Economic measures

On April 16, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Rima Al-Qadiri said that 160,000 people had registered on the online platform of the National Strategy for Social Emergency Response (NSSER) to benefit from in-kind support. Some 80 percent of those who registered said that they became unemployed following the spread of the virus and the ensuing economic measures, including the lockdowns and curfew. To this day, the government has announced no measure to cope with the impact of rising unemployment except the launch of the NSSER’s platform.

The government also took several decisions to ease stay-at-home and other travel restrictions. While this relaxation of restrictions risks spreading the virus, it is a consequence of the very dire economic situation Syrians are going through.

The government will allow people to travel between provinces next Monday and Tuesday, but only once. Meanwhile, during the holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to start on April 23, the curfew times have been amended to start at 7:30 pm, instead of 6:00 pm, and last until 6:00 am the following day.

Also, a growing number of business sectors and government administrations have been allowed to reopen, including tax and cadastral affairs departments in the provinces, which may reflect the need for the government to resume collecting taxes and other fees.

While new businesses, particularly retail shops, have been allowed to reopen, the government has introduced a plan to limit openings to specific weekdays based on each sector of activity.

Starting from April 19, shops such as tailors, libraries, sweets shops, flower shops, and mobile phone stores will open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while clothing, leather and shoe shops will open on Mondays and Wednesdays; those selling electrical appliances will open on Sundays, while barbershops and hairdressers are allowed to open throughout the week from Monday to Thursday.

In other words, an increasing number of retail shops are allowed to open, but only for one or two days per week.

The Ministry of Industry is also working on a plan to allow businesses categorised as crafts to reopen, including embroidery, oriental fabric, upholstery, metal-cutting, etching, tile, wood mosaics, auto-repair parts, hand blown glass and brocard.

Restaurants will remain closed for the time being, except for delivery services.

Also, in order to keep a safe level of inventories, the government has banned the export of many agricultural products, including bulgur, lentils, chickpeas, beans, rice, sugar and vegetable oil. In practice, Syria does not export much of these products and is actually a net importer of some, such as rice and sugar. Similar export restrictions have been imposed on various products in recent weeks.

On April 20, the government announced a new production line for masks at the state-owned Industrial Company for Garments in Aleppo.

The government has also launched an online application for Syrians stranded abroad to apply to return. The travel cost will be borne by the travellers, and returnees will have to remain quarantined for 14 days upon their return.


Events

Labour Law Seminar
Damascus Chamber of Commerce
Export Food Industries
Damascus International Fairground