AMMAN (Reuters) – Syria is facing a new surge in COVID-19 infections in both government-held areas and territory outside state control that could overwhelm the war-ravaged country’s fragile health system, aid workers, officials and medical sources said on Wednesday.
Government health authorities said the number of cases reported in the last twenty four hours has hit 235, the highest daily tally since the first case was reported in March last year.
NGO’s, independent medics and aid workers say official data reflect a small fraction of the real toll.
Syria was hard hit by the pandemic last year during two major spikes in infections in August and December where medical staff privately say there was an official cover up of the extent of the pandemic, a charge denied by authorities.
The latest spike comes from the Delta variant blamed on a surge of visitors from abroad in the summer, they say.
Health workers say the country has administered only 440,000 doses of COVID vaccines so far, only a fraction of the country’s over 18 million people.
Official figures say there have been 31,148 infections and 2,146 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began last year.
Many hospitals were already stretched to the limit of their capacity even though many cases were less severe than previous waves, officials say.
“The occupancy of intensive care units (ICU) for COVID-19 patients have reached close to 100%,” said Issam al-Amin, the head of Mouwasat University Hospital, one of the largest public hospitals in the capital city of Damascus, with over 800 beds.
The spike in cases and deaths was more alarming in the country’s heavily populated opposition held northwest near the Turkish border where over four million live, among them nearly half a million alone in makeshift tents.
In that area, infections have doubled within a month to around a total of 63,000 cases, according to Western aid groups working in the area.
“In this current wave there have been more daily cases confirmed than we have ever seen before,” Tanya Evans, the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) Country Director for Syria, said in a statement to Reuters.
The total number of active cases is now over 25,000, which almost equals the total number detected in northwest Syria in the entire past year, the IRC said.
“The situation has become catastrophic with all the hospitals overwhelmed,” said Ammar Shami a medical official in Idlib city who said oxygen supplies were also running dangerously low.
Local officials in the area announced on Tuesday the closure of schools, institutes, public market places and restaurants.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Diane Craft)