Northeast Syrian authorities impose another COVID-19 lockdown amid concerns over low vaccine supply

“In the country’s northwest, the health system is already unable to cope, while in the northeast, the coronavirus is spreading at a worrying pace,” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said.
A health  are worker checks the temperature of a man inside a health isolation center on the Syrian-Turkish border. (Photo: AP/Anas Alkharboutli)
A health are worker checks the temperature of a man inside a health isolation center on the Syrian-Turkish border. (Photo: AP/Anas Alkharboutli)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Local authorities affiliated with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) will impose a total COVID-19 lockdown in the Euphrates region, the Syria-based Rojava Information Centre (RIC) said on Friday.

This includes the cities of Kobani and Ain al Issa in northern Syria.

The AANES itself imposed a COVID-19 lockdown on the entire area under its control from Oct. 3 to Oct. 9 due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases there.

Read More: Autonomous administration in northeast Syria extends COVID-19 lockdown to all seven regions

In September, the administration imposed a health lockdown only in the Jazirah region (Hasakah province).

On Wednesday, the international humanitarian medical organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned that northeast and northwest Syria are experiencing the most severe recorded wave of COVID-19 yet, with already limited oxygen supplies and testing kits running low.

“In the country’s northwest, the health system is already unable to cope, while in the northeast, the coronavirus is spreading at a worrying pace,” MSF said.

The MSF said they are witnessing a worrying increase in the number of people with COVID-19 in northeast Syria over the past few weeks.

“In the last week of September, an average of 342 people tested positive each day; the highest daily number since the pandemic began.”

While numbers had started to decrease in the first week of October, the only laboratory able to perform PCR tests to diagnose COVID-19 in the region is running short on materials, the MSF said.

They face the possibility of halting all testing in the coming weeks if numbers do not continue to decline, the MSF statement said. The supply of oxygen is also under serious strain, with the COVID-19 treatment facility in Hasakah forced to source oxygen cylinders from Qamishli, Raqqa, and Tabqa in order to meet demand.

In response to the wave, MSF is partnering with a local organization to care for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in treatment centers in Hasakah and Raqqa city.

“But our ability to source oxygen is stretched, and we are worried that if the number of positive cases increases again, or stays steady at such high rates, we will be unable to meet the demands for all patients,” Hanna Majanen, MSF emergency medical manager for Syria, said.

According to a World Food Programme (WFP) report in September 2021, around 28,073 COVID-19 cases were reported across northeast Syria, an increase of 7,462 new cases compared to the previous month.

The WFP said this represents “the highest monthly caseload since the start of the pandemic.”

Jeff Seldin, the Voice of America's National Security Correspondent tweeted on Friday that the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) delegation that visited the United States in September asked for more help with COVID-19 vaccines.

"We really need urgent help when it comes to vaccinations, when it comes to the hospitals," Jazira Civic Council Co-President Nazira Gawria said at the time, Seldin tweeted.

So far, the local authorities in northeast Syria received a small number of vaccines, with the majority of the vaccines going to the Syrian government.

While some 23,000 COVID-19 vaccines have recently been delivered to other parts of northeast Syria, accounting for less than 1% of the population, a meager 100 vaccines have arrived in Kobani, MSF said in August.

Read More: Syria's Kobani in need of vaccines to prevent outbreaks: MSF

Such disruption contributes to a widening immunization gap and increases the likelihood of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, MSF said at the time.