Underequipped Kurdish-held northeast Syria under grave COVID-19 threat

Aid-deprived areas of northeast Syria that are held by Kurdish-led groups are bracing for a tough battle with the coronavirus pandemic as medical supplies are low, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat reported.

The Kurdish-held region is yet to report its first case of the coronavirus, but officials say they will face a stern challenge when it comes partly because of the camps for some 100,000 displaced people and imprisoned Islamic State (ISIS) members that it hosts.

"Even before the novel coronavirus arrived, our needs were huge, and now, in light of the outbreak, we need even more support" from the international community, said Jawan Mustafa, head of the Kurdish administration's health department.

The spread of the virus could be an even bigger challenge in the northeast than in the northwest, which is held by Turkish-backed rebels, because the Kurdish-held areas do not have links to U.N. aid, Asharq al-Awsat said.

The Turkish military pushed the Kurdish groups away from northeast Syrian border areas in a military operation in October. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish groups terrorist organisations for their links to insurgents who have been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey for decades.

Kurdish-led groups still hold large parts of northeast Syria, but these lack medical facilities, the International Rescue Committee has warned.

Three of the hospitals in those areas have been marked out to quarantine and treat suspected coronavirus patients, but they only have 28 beds between them and two of the hospitals are not fully equipped, the IRC said.

Of even greater concern are the crowded camps, including the Al-Hol camp where ISIS members and their families are being held.

"The camp is, in and of itself, a social gathering and this is the problem," Mustafa said.