Syria Kurds set up first coronavirus hospital

Near Hasakeh (Syria) (AFP) –


Syria's Kurds have set up a specialised hospital for coronavirus cases, the Kurdish Red Crescent said Monday, after the first COVID-19 death was reported in the northeastern region.

The United Nations on Friday said a man aged in his fifties had on April 2 become the first fatality from COVID-19 in northeast Syria.

In a region suffering from a lack of medical supplies, the news further raised fears of a breakout, including in its thronging camps for the displaced.

Kurdish Red Crescent co-director Sherwan Bery said a new 120-bed facility was now ready to welcome any moderate cases of the virus around 10 kilometres (six miles) outside the city of Hasakeh.

The hospital "is to just focus on the COVID-19 infection cases" and keep them all in the same place instead of across different hospitals, he said.

The idea is "to not spread contamination to other areas," Bery said.

AFP journalists saw a large ward containing dozens of beds spaced out several metres apart, with tall oxygen tanks by their side.

"We are preparing for the moderate cases," Bery said, but efforts were also ongoing to set up an intensive care unit for severe cases, there or in another location.

He said other coronavirus wards would also be set up in the cities of Raqa and Manbij.

- 'Unthinkable consequences' -

Kurdish authorities on Friday accused the World Health Organisation of a two-week delay in informing them of the first coronavirus-related death in their areas and sought to blame them for any outbreak.

The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA said WHO provided information that the fatality had subsequently tested positive.

Fears are high of any spread in the region's overcrowded displacement camps, including the tent settlement of Al-Hol that houses some 70,000 people, including families of the Islamic State jihadist group.

OCHA on Friday said construction had commenced "to establish an isolation area outside Al-Hol camp, with capacity for 80 beds".

Syria's government has announced 39 cases of COVID-19 in areas it controls, including three deaths.

On Saturday, charity Save the Children warned prevention was key in Syria's northeast, a region with "fewer than 30 intensive care unit beds, only ten adult ventilators and just one paediatric ventilator".

"We're desperately hoping that this first COVID-19 case in northeast Syria can be contained or the consequences are unthinkable," said its Syria response director Sonia Khush.