As coronavirus spreads throughout the Middle East and lockdowns begin, aid groups are struggling to reach people in conflict zones. The Norwegian Refugee Council said on Wednesday that coronavirus shutdowns prevented the agency from reaching 300,000 people in need in Syria, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip.
Countries across the region have imposed sweeping efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus. The UN has called for a world-wide truce to focus on the pandemic, but in some areas, fighting continues.
Syria has reported five confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday night. Aid groups are trying to reach people in refugee camps in northwest Syria, where government forces and Turkish-backed rebels have been fighting, although a ceasefire brokered by Russia earlier in March has been holding relatively well.
Besides fighting in the northwest, Syria is under heavy US and EU sanctions, which has a direct impact on medical facilities in government-controlled areas and can exacerbate a coronavirus outbreak, similar to the situation in Iran. Syria enacted a curfew that started at 6 pm on Wednesday night.
The Gaza Strip reported seven new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to nine. Gaza’s medical infrastructure is virtually non-existent due to the Israeli blockade, and the enclave is so densely populated many fear a coronavirus outbreak will spread rapidly. In the West Bank, there are 60 confirmed cases, and the Palestinian Authority ordered a complete lockdown.
Coronavirus has entered war-torn Libya, which reported its first case on Wednesday. Authorities tracked down and quarantined anyone who came in contact with Libya’s first confirmed case. The city of Benghazi enacted a two-week lockdown. As the UN calls for a truce in Libya to deal with coronavirus, Gen. Khalifa Hafter continues his effort to take the capital Tripoli from the UN-backed Government of National Accord.
Although no cases have been reported in Yemen, the World Health Organization has warned of an impending “explosion” of cases in the country due to its shattered medical infrastructure, a result of the five-year US-Saudi war against the Houthis. Preventative measures like hand–washing is a luxury most Yemenis cannot afford since 18 million Yemenis do not have access to clean water.
Iran is still dealing with the worst outbreak in the region, one of the worst in the world. The Islamic Republic has over 27,000 confirmed cases, with a death toll of at least 2,077. Iranian authorities have urged people to stay home, but have not enacted strict curfews or lockdowns seen in other countries in the region. There has been an international outcry from people inside Iran, the US, and other countries for the Trump administration to lift the inhumane sanctions on Iran.
Afghanistan imposed a lockdown in its western Herat province, which borders Iran. So far, Afghanistan has 76 confirmed cases and two deaths. Four NATO coalition service members have tested positive in Kabul. Although the US recently signed a peace deal with the Taliban, fighting continues.