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UN calls for Syria ceasefire to tackle virus threat

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Beirut (AFP)

The United Nations top envoy for Syria on Tuesday called for a nationwide ceasefire to allow for a better response to the threat of the novel coronavirus.

The government in Damascus has so far only reported one case of COVID-19 but fears are high that the virus could spread rapidly among the war-battered country's most vulnerable communities.

"Syrians are acutely vulnerable to COVID-19. Healthcare facilities have been destroyed or are degraded," Geir Pedersen said. "There is a shortage of key medical equipment and health professionals."

The aid community has warned that Syria, where around a million people have been displaced by conflict in the northwest since December alone, is particularly vulnerable.

"To confront this danger, the long-suffering Syrian people desperately need a sustained period of calm throughout the country respected by all parties," Pedersen said.

He called for the mass release of detainees, demanded full and sustained humanitarian access to all parts of the country and urged donors to heed dedicated funding appeals.

The International Rescue Committee this week warned that an outbreak of novel coronavirus in northern Syria could be one of the worst the world has seen.

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