UN warns Libya vulnerable as country suffers first virus death

Tripoli (AFP) –


The United Nations warned Friday that health services in conflict-plagued Libya were already fragile as the North African country recorded its first death from the novel coronavirus.

Health authorities said an 85-year-old woman was confirmed to have had COVID-19 on examination after her death, without giving further details.

The UN-recognised, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), which controls the west of the country, has officially recorded 10 cases of the virus in Libya.

No cases have been declared in the south and east, which are largely under the control of a rival administration supported by military strongman Khalifa Haftar.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned Friday that the health system in Libya, the scene of a year of fighting for control of Tripoli, was already on the verge of collapse.

"The ongoing conflict has severely impacted the country's health system and medical services, which have limited financial resources and face shortages of basic equipment and medicines," UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said.

He told a press briefing in Geneva that several hospitals near fighting zones south of the capital had been damaged or closed.

Baloch called for the release of hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees held by Libyan authorities in detention centres.

They are "particularly vulnerable and exposed, given often poor sanitation facilities, limited health services and overcrowded conditions", the UNHCR spokesman said.

Libya has been gripped by chaos since longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi was brought down and killed in a 2011 uprising backed by NATO.

Its rival administrations have launched preventive measures against COVID-19, including night-time curfews and the closure of restaurants, cafes and non-essential services.