Syrian Kurdish officials impose curfew to prevent coronavirus outbreak

The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (AANES) on Thursday announced a curfew that would last indefinitely in the region under its control to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

QAMISHLI (Kurdistan 24) - The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (AANES) on Thursday announced a curfew that would last indefinitely in the region under its control to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The ban on movement gradually takes effect on Saturday and will prevent transportation between cities of the region. The full curfew will go into effect on Monday, when all restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, private clinics, wedding halls, and funeral tents will be shut down.

The order excludes hospitals, public clinics, pharmacies, sterilization teams, cleaners, bakeries, food stores, vehicles for transporting food and infant formula, fuel tankers, and international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Kurdish Red Crescent (KRC).

So far there have been no reported cases of the virus in northern and northeastern Syria, also known as Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) under the self-administration.

Kurdish authorities have already taken precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic to their region, where the health system has been severely damaged and overtaxed by almost a decade of civil war.

The first move taken three weeks ago was the closure of Semalka, the main border crossing between Rojava and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Semalka border has been the only outlet of the Syrian Kurdish-controlled areas to the rest of the world, through which international journalists, humanitarian organizations, and diplomatic missions can have access to the region, though they cannot operate in Syrian regime-held areas.

Since Feb. 26, the administration had decided to restrict civilians recently in Europe from entering through the border crossing. The danger of a local coronavirus outbreak still exists, since the southern borders of the administration's territory with regime-controlled territories are not well controlled, especially checkpoints on the outskirts of Deir al-Zor, Raqqa, and Manbij provinces.

Moreover, the self-administration is poorly prepared for the coronavirus crisis due to an already degraded fragile health system that has no testing facilities, according to international organizations and experts.

Read More: Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria ill-prepared for coronavirus outbreak

In the cities of Tabqa, southwest to Raqqa, and in Manbij, those coming from regime and rebel areas are also being checked by medical teams for symptoms consistent with the coronavirus before being permitted to enter the Kurdish-controlled areas. Additional mobile teams are also working to spread information about the virus and make recommendations aimed at curbing contagion.

Regarding the rebel areas of Idlib and Afrin, no coronavirus cases have been reported so far.

The Syrian government has denied any cases of the novel coronavirus in their territories, despite reports suggesting otherwise.  

Read More: Syrian government quiet amid coronavirus outbreak 

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which cited local medical sources, there have been at least 62 people infected with the virus in the regime-controlled provinces of Damascus, Tartus, Lattakia, and Homs and local media claimed that one woman from Deir al-Zor died from it in the al-Assad hospital last Friday.

Infections are suspected to have been brought over by Iranian military personnel who had returned to Syria after trips to their home country, now the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East and its primary regional exporter.

The unclear situation of coronavirus outbreak in the regime and rebel areas on the one hand, and the outbreak of the pandemic in neighboring countries, such as Iraq, Iran, and Turkey on the other, has pushed the Kurdish self-administration to not only close its Semalka border crossing but also impose the new curfew.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared it a global pandemic last week, the coronavirus has so far infected nearly 246,000 in over 150 countries worldwide and killed over 10,000 since first appearing in China in late 2019. 

Editing by John J. Catherine