First COVID-19 cases reported in Syria's Al-Hol camp

Health care facilities in Syria's Al-Hol displaced persons' camp are basic, raising fears that any infections with the novel coronavirus could rapidly escalate into a major outbreak
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Three health workers in a displaced persons' camp in northeastern Syria have contracted the novel coronavirus, the United Nations said Thursday, the first reported infections in the vast tent city.

The Al-Hol camp is home to tens of thousands of people, including the relatives of Islamic State group jihadists.

It is run by the autonomous Kurdish administration that holds most of the northeast and has reported 54 cases of COVID-19 in areas under its control. 

"On 3 August, three health workers reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 at the Al-Hol IDP camp," said a spokesman for the UN Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"The contact tracing process is ongoing. As a precautionary measure, only critical staff, with personal protective equipment, are allowed to operate inside the camp," David Swanson told AFP. 

A health official at the camp said the three staff infected work with the Kurdish Red Crescent in Al-Hol.

"We fear that the virus could have spread to camp residents visiting health clinics," he said, asking not to be identified because he is not authorised to speak to the media on the issue.

The latest infections raise to nine the number of Kurdish Red Crescent staff in northeastern Syria who have contracted the virus, a volunteer at the organisation told AFP, asking not to be identified.

Nine years of war have battered healthcare provision across Syria, but the situation in the northeast is particularly critical, as the Kurdish authorities have been left to cope with the coronavirus pandemic largely unaided.

This has raised fears that any outbreak could swiftly escalate into an epidemic gripping the entire Kurdish region.