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First virus case in Lebanon Palestinian refugee camp: UN

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Beirut (AFP)

A Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon has been put on lockdown after the UN announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in one of the country's numerous and crowded camps.

The patient, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, has been taken to the state-run Rafic Hariri hospital in Beirut, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said in a statement late Tuesday.

Medical experts were due to visit the Wavel camp in the eastern Bekaa Valley later on Wednesday to carry out tests, the agency added.

The testing will focus on the woman's relatives and people she has interacted with, as well as 50 others chosen arbitrarily "inside the camp and its surroundings", said Lebanon's official National News Agency.

In coordination with Lebanese security forces, Palestinian factions in charge of security have imposed a lockdown on the camp, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, the NNA report said.

The United Nations and aid groups have repeatedly warned that refugees and migrants in crowded camps worldwide are at special risk of the new coronavirus.

More than 70 million people globally been forced by conflict, persecution, violence and abuses to flee their homes, including more than 20 million people living as refugees, according to UN data.

- Weak sanitation, cramped conditions -

More than 2,000 people live in Wavel, according to statistics released by Lebanon's government after a 2017 census, but the UN agency says the population of those registered in the camp are much higher.

Aid groups have warned that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in Lebanon's overcrowded camps are the most vulnerable and that self-isolating patients in the camps where sanitation is weak would be one of the top challenges.

"The main concern remains... the spread of coronavirus in the overcrowded Palestine refugee camps where there are very limited possibilities for home isolation," an UNRWA spokeswoman said earlier this month.

More than 174,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon, according to official figures, with most residing in camps ruled by Palestinian factions beyond the reach of Lebanese security forces.

But unofficial estimates say the Palestinians, whose forefathers fled the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, could number as many as 500,000.

And out of the 1.5 million Syrians Lebanon says it hosts since the civil war broke out in the neighbouring country nine years ago, nearly one million are registered with the UN as refugees.

So far just one Palestinian, who lives outside a camp, and three Syrians have tested positive in Lebanon for COVID-19 compared to 677 infections and 21 deaths across the country, according to officials.

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