Coronavirus news: Syria’s refugee camps offer ‘fertile ground’ for illness, warns expert

Meanwhile, one US-based expert stressed it was “essential” to take all steps necessary to stop the illness spreading in the camps, which he warned offered the perfect breeding ground for the virus. The latest World Health Organization (WHO) data reveals the disease – which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year – has not yet been identified in Syria, or Turkey, where 3.7 million Syrians have fled the civil war which has torn their own country apart. A DFID spokeswoman told “DFID is a leading supporter of the global effort to tackle the coronavirus, including announcing support to find a vaccine and develop a rapid test for the disease.

“The UK is also fighting the disease in fragile states, committing £16million to help the most vulnerable countries prepare and £10 million to the World Health Organization’s Emergency Flash Appeal.

She added: “Though there are currently no confirmed cases of the disease in Syria, we are monitoring the situation closely and looking at what support we could provide through our partners in the camps.

“The UK’s support to Syria is its largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis.

“To date, we have provided £3.1 billion which is helping to save lives through shelter, medical help, water, and food to victims of the violence.”

Dr Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told “Refugee camps, because they are close populations, can be fertile ground for any virus to spread.

“Many of the inhabitants may be malnourished and more prone to severe infection.

“It will be essential to step up healthcare efforts with a refugee camps and ensure that they are adequately resourced.”

Speaking last Saturday after a rocket attack by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al Assad killed 33 Turkish troops during an offensive near the city of Idlib, in northern Syria, Mr Erdogan said: “What did we do yesterday?

“We opened the doors. We will not close those doors.

“Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.”

Mr Erdogan’s remark is a reference to a 2016 deal with the bloc whereby the EU pledged financial aid to Turkey in exchange for Ankara preventing people from trying to cross the country’s various borders with Europe.

Footage last week showed Syrians trying to cross into Greece by cutting holes in border fences, with Greek police responding by firing tear gas into the crowds.

On Lesbos, where more than 20,000 Syrian refugees are already living in cramped, filthy conditions, Greek police began a series of live round exercises aimed at deterring more from heading to the island.

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DFID yesterday unveiled a £46million package consisting of:

  • £5m for the WHO’s flash appeal, in addition to the £5 million DFID pledged to the WHO’s Flash Appeal last month.
  • Up to £20 million for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to support vaccine development, with British scientists working on eight possible vaccines
  • Up to £5 million through the Joint Initiative on Research for Epidemic Preparedness in collaboration with Wellcome to develop quicker diagnosis methods and perform other essential research for disease control
  • Up to £16 million for humanitarian partners to help the most vulnerable countries prepare for coronavirus, comprising £5 million to the International Federation ofthe Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, £5 million to UNICEF to support infection  prevention and access to safe water and and £6 million for extra support for other partners, including for medics and supplies

Since 2012, the UK has provided more than 19 million medical check-ups, more than 28 million food rations, and more than 12 million vaccines for other diseases across Syria and the region.

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