‘Keeping a 2m distance is impossible’: Manchester charity Syria Relief send coronavirus aid to Idlib

Manchester charity Syria Relief is providing aid to protect displaced civilians in Syria’s war ravaged Idlib province from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the world responds to this deepening crisis, the already battered infrastructure of the beleaguered Syrian province will be ill-prepared to handle a further onslaught.

A representative of the charity said: “Coronavirus will spread like wildfire here. 

“Idlib as a province has become densely populated, as people throughout the nine-year Syrian conflict have fled here when their hometowns have been under siege, meaning an area the size of Somerset now houses several million people.

“In the camps, you have a disproportionate amount of old people and people with health conditions picked up as a by-product of the conflict or the dirty squalor they are forced to live in.

“Camps are densely populated, with as many tents and temporary shelters as possible crammed into a small space. 

“It’s the rule, not the exception, to have between 8-12 people living under one tent.”

Whilst the UK has introduced measures requiring people to stay in their homes to prevent further spread of the virus, implementing such measures under the conditions in Idlib is simply inconceivable.

He explained: “Unfortunately the measures we can take here are seen as luxurious in war-torn Idlib. 

“Over one million people have been displaced from their homes, so ‘staying at home’ is impossible, especially as so many homes have been destroyed.

“People living in camps barely have good enough access to clean water to drink, let alone wash their hands.

“Keeping a 2m distance is impossible when you are living in a camp designed to be as cramped as possible in order to house the maximum number of people in a limited space.”

Despite the astronomic vulnerability of the camps to infection, so far there have been no confirmed cases from inside displaced persons camps in Idlib, although there have been many suspected.

So far, Syria Relief has provided 300 testing kits. It is conservatively estimated that more than a million people are internally displaced throughout Idlib and the surrounding areas. 

Unfortunately, the shortages don’t stop there. At present, there are fewer than 2,000 hospital beds available in Idlib to serve a population of over three million. 

What beds there are already stretched beyond the limit caring for victims of air strikes and barrel bombs.

Multiple news outlets, including an investigative report by The New York Times, as well as charities with aid workers on the ground and countless citizen journalists, have confirmed that hospitals are being deliberately targeted by both regime and Russian armed forces.

The findings have been subject to a co-ordinated campaign of disinformation from Moscow and Damascus, with both co-opting anti-imperialist rhetoric to dismiss the claims in the face of overwhelming evidence. 

In addition to targeting schools and hospitals, there is also evidence of so-called “double tap” strikes, where a second attack is carried out shortly after the first to specifically target first responders.

This persecution of the civilians of Idlib has left the area almost completely exposed to COVID-19.

In addition to inadequate medical supplies, a disproportionate number of people also suffer from health conditions which increase their vulnerability.

Malnutrition, life-changing injuries, and diseases caused by squalor all render displaced persons perilously susceptible to the ravages of the virus.

On the ground the mood is morose, to the say the least.

A spokesperson for Syria Relief revealed: “For many people, it’s one thing after another. 

“Idlib is a tragedy, wrapped in another tragedy, wrapped in another tragedy. 

“Not only have people lost their homes, loved ones, schools and hospitals to the conflict, but so many have froze to death or become desperately ill due to having to sleep outside or in unsuitable conditions in winter and now there is COVID-19.”

Journalist and activist Waad Al-Kataeb, whose Oscar nominated film For Sama documented the Siege of Aleppo, has also called on people to do whatever they can to provide support to Idlib.

In spite of the support from organisations such as Syria Relief in Manchester, as well as the heroic efforts of first-response organisations such as the White Helmets, it is difficult to see how those in Idlib will be able to prevent the virus from simply moving through the population largely uninhibited.

For civilians trapped in Idlib, COVID-19 is just the the latest in a long line of relentless attacks, from Assad, Russia, IS, and now Coronavirus.

Syria Relief give a bleak outlook of what lies ahead.

“Many ask ‘What’s next? What else will try and kill us?’”

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