Rebel-held northwest Syria is facing an unprecedented coronavirus surge and aid agencies are calling on the world to help provide humanitarian and medical aid, increase hospital capacity and ensure people are vaccinated.
The surge, apparently caused by the more contagious delta variant, has overwhelmed hospitals with sick patients and is causing shortages of oxygen, according to local officials. The local rebel-run authority imposed a nighttime curfew as of Tuesday while schools and universities were closed and students are getting distant learning.
The region is home to four million people, many of them internally displaced by Syria’s 10-year conflict.
Dr. Khaula Sawah, president of the International Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, or UOSSM, says international aid is urgently needed “to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Millions of lives are at stake.”
The rate of positive test results — an indication of the level of virus spread — is around 55 per cent, according to UOSSM and Christian humanitarian organization World Vision. Only 1.3 per cent of people are vaccinated, according to World Vision.
Local medical authorities say the number of registered coronavirus cases in the region reached nearly 77,000, while deaths reached 1,357.
“People are dying in northwest Syria because they cannot access hospitals,” Johan Mooij, World Vision Syria response director, said in a statement released Thursday.
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What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 236.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.8 million.
In Europe, Russia’s daily coronavirus infections soared Thursday to their highest level so far this year as authorities have struggled to control a surge in new cases amid a slow pace in vaccinations and few restrictions in place.
The government’s coronavirus task force reported 27,550 new confirmed cases, a nearly 10 per cent rise from the previous day. The daily coronavirus death toll topped 900 for a second straight day, with 924 new deaths reported Thursday — a day after reaching a record 929.
In Africa, Sudan has received more than 500,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer, the first batch of a U.S. donation of 1.27 million doses through the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative.
In Asia, the World Health Organization has started shipping COVID-19 medical supplies into North Korea, a possible sign that the North is easing one of the world’s strictest pandemic border closures to receive outside help.
In the Americas, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11, Pfizer said in a tweet on Thursday.
The FDA has set a date of Oct. 26 for outside advisers to meet and discuss the Pfizer application.
U.S. President Joe Biden is set to visit Chicago on Thursday to meet with United Airlines’ chief executive and local Democratic leaders as he touts his decision to impose vaccine mandates on employees of large firms, the White House said. United this summer became the first American carrier to institute a vaccine mandate.