DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections since mid-February but lockdown options remain limited due to the country's dire economic situation, a member of the country's coronavirus advisory committee said on Thursday.
"Starting February 10th or around that time we started seeing a spike in cases," Dr. Nabough al-Awa told Reuters.
"I don't have accurate percentages as I'm only one doctor... but I also talk to my colleagues. If I was seeing in my clinic two or three cases a day last year now I am seeing five or six."
The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
On Monday it started administering COVID-19 vaccinations to frontline healthcare workers and said the country was experiencing a rise in infections. It gave no further details.
Syria has officially recorded a total of 15,753 cases and 1,045 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Actual numbers are expected to be much higher owing to the government's limited testing capability.
"It is not possible in Syria to test everybody concerning PCR, there is a total shortage of PCR kits, we don't get enough to test everybody," said Khaled Hboubati, President of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), speaking from Damascus to a news briefing in Geneva.
The government imposed a nationwide curfew when the pandemic first hit last year but restaurants, shops and schools re-opened as that lockdown was gradually eased starting from May. Mask wearing is required in government offices and on crowded public transport.
One relief worker said the number of people seeking oxygen tanks spiked around a week ago but was now stabilising again.
Several schools in Damascus have had to shut classes in the past week due to the rise in cases amongst students.
Online learning remains difficult in a conflict-ridden country where internet and electricity supply is not stable.
Awa said adding to the problem was the fact that most schools in Syria don't have access to functional bathrooms, and soap and sanitation facilities, which if provided could decrease the number of infections.
"These things could help reduce numbers if closure is difficult," Awa said.
"It's still not too late to act but the problem is we have to admit that we are being subjected to a severe spike."
(Reporting by Kinda Makieh and Firas Makdesi, additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, writing by Maha El Dahan, editing by Alexandra Hudson, William Maclean)