War-Torn Syria Braces for Lockdown After First CCP Virus Case

DAMASCUS—Syrians rushed to stock up on food and fuel March 23 amid fears that authorities would resort to even stricter measures after reporting the first CCP virus infection in the country, where the health care system has been decimated by nearly a decade of civil war.

The arrival of the global pandemic in Syria as well as the Gaza Strip has raised concerns it could run rampant in some of the most vulnerable areas in the Middle East. War-torn Libya and Yemen, which have yet to report any cases, are also a source of concern.

The worst outbreak in the Middle East is unfolding in Iran, where authorities reported another 127 deaths on March 23, bringing the total number of reported fatalities to 1,812 amid more than 23,000 confirmed cases. Iran has faced widespread criticism for not imposing stricter quarantine measures early on.

Lines formed outside grocery stores, banks, and gas stations across the Syrian capital, Damascus, as people braced for wider closures. The government has already closed restaurants, cafes, and other businesses, and has halted public transportation.

The citys Hamidiyeh souk, a network of covered markets running through the Old City, was deserted after the government ordered all shops closed on March 22.

Authorities closed border crossings with Lebanon and Jordan, and Damascus International Airport was closed to commercial traffic after a final flight arrived from Moscow. State-run newspapers issued their last print edition and will only be available online.

Countries across the Middle East have already ramped up restrictions on daily life in an effort to contain the global pandemic. Many have sealed their borders and canceled flights.

The United Arab Emirates, home to the worlds busiest international airport, said it was suspending all passenger and transit flights for two weeks. Dubais airport is a vital hub connecting Western nations with Asian countries and Australia.

Around 350,000 people have been infected worldwide, and more than 15,000 have died. More than 100,000 people have recovered.

Syria has close ties to Iran, which is a key ally of the government in the civil war, and Shiite pilgrims frequently travel between the two countries. Syrias Health Ministry said a 20-year-old woman tested positive after arriving from another country, without elaborating.

Syrias health care system has been ravaged by nearly a decade of war that has displaced millions of people and created rampant poverty. Hospitals and clinics across the country have been destroyed or damaged. The government is also under heavy international sanctions linked to its conduct during the war.

Gaza, where two people tested positive after returning from Pakistan, has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since 2007, when the Islamic terrorist group Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces.

The coastal territory is home to more than 2 million people but only has around 60 ventilators. All but 15 are already in use, according to Abdelnasser Soboh, director of the World Health Organizations Gaza office.

Yemen, where conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has been going on since 2015, is already home to one of the worlds worst humanitarian crises. Millions depend on food aid, and the country has suffered a series of cholera outbreaks in recent years.

Altaf Musani, the WHO representative in Yemen, said the entire health care system in the nation of 29 million people is operating at less than half its capacity. Officials are “deeply alarmed” by the possibility of an outbreak, which would be “catastrophic” for Yemen, he said.

In eastern Libya, authorities will impose a round-the-clock curfew on March 25 that will last one week. The government there is allied with Khalifa Hifter, a military commander whose forces control much of the country and are battling rivals in the capital, Tripoli.

The eastern administration has already imposed a nightly curfew and closed mosques, educational facilities, and shops. It has banned large gatherings and suspended public transportation.

In Iraq, authorities have begun using a loudspeaker system for the first time since the 1990 Gulf War to urge citizens to stay home and avoid large gatherings. Iraqs Health Ministry has reported 23 fatalities among 266 confirmed cases.

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