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Syrian Coronavirus Crisis ‘10 Times Worse’ Than Regime Claims
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“I cannot tell my true name,” says Ramiz Halawani, a 37-year-old teacher in Damascus. “You know how bad and violent our security intelligence are. They have spies everywhere. So, I am using another name.”

Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Independent, Mr Halawani said he contracted Covid-19 earlier this month, as the epidemic swept through the Syrian capital. “I have been sick with coronavirus infection for 10 days,” he said. “I got the infection from a colleague of mine at a summer school. After almost a week, I felt exhausted with fever and a dry cough. I thought it was just a flu, but as a precaution I told my wife and three children to stay with my parents-in-law.”

The next morning, Mr Halawani woke up with a sore throat and a bad headache. He knew some doctors and nurses at a clinic near where he lived and went there. He described his symptoms to them and they tested him, telling him to go home and quarantine himself while they waited for the results of the test. “The next day I called the doctor, who told me that I had tested positive,” says Mr Halawani. He was told not to try to go to a hospital because they were all full up and would not accept him as a patient.

The Syrian government has been playing down just how swiftly the disease is spreading. It has reported just 2,293 Covid-19 cases and 92 deaths, 52 of which in Damascus.

One nurse from a large hospital in Damascus told The Independent that the Syrian health ministry number for those infected is only 10 per cent of the true figure. The nurse said that the huge al-Mouwasat University Hospital, where he worked, was full up with patients, many of them sleeping on mattresses on the floor.

The number of people dying is likely to be much higher than the government admits. Mr Halawani said he lives close to a big cemetery and saw dozens of dead bodies being secretly buried there at night: “Three weeks ago, six small trucks, usually used in hospitals to transfer medicine and medical equipment, arrived in the cemetery at about 10pm.” They were accompanied by about 15 men in full PPE, two of them carrying Kalashnikov automatic rifles.

Out of curiosity, Mr Halawani walked to the fence around the cemetery where he “was shocked to see that they were taking dozens of dead bodies out of the trucks”. When some of his neighbours got close to the scene, one of the men with the bodies shouted that they should “move away so that the disease does not infect us”. Mr Halawani said he counted about 45 bodies, but believes the total figure to be over 60.

The 5 million population of Damascus are in a poor position to resist the spread of coronavirus. People are crammed into houses, often half a dozen families where there used to be one, because they have fled to the greater security of the Syrian capital during the last nine years of war. They have been impoverished by the conflict, with eight in 10 Syrians living below the poverty line according to the UN. This deprivation suddenly became much worse this summer after the Trump administration introduced the so-called Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act, named after the Syrian photographer who documented thousands of people killed by the government. The act, which came into force on 17 June, reinforces tight economic sanctions against Syria that were already crushing the economy.

The new measures amount to a full economic blockade and have led to soaring prices, the near collapse of the Syrian currency, and shortages of food and other necessities. Though the ostensible purpose of the sanctions may be to protect ordinary Syrians from the regime, its real impact has been to make them even poorer, more malnourished and more vulnerable to coronavirus. Syrians in the street complain that they have to choose between buying masks and buying bread.

Mr Halawani is a little better off than many of those infected in Damascus, but he still finds the medicines he wants to buy very expensive. After the doctor told him that he had tested positive for coronavirus, he said: “I went to the pharmacy wearing gloves and a mask and bought some paracetamol, an antibiotic called Azithromycin, and vitamin C tablets.” He reckons that anybody who has coronavirus in Syria needs at least 25,000 Syrian pounds (£7.61), for the extra costs and points out that this is more than half the monthly income of many people. “This is why the number of deaths is increasing so dramatically,” he said. “People are not dying of the disease, but rather of poverty. It is not starvation [that is killing them], but lack of money to buy medicine.”

Syrians often do not want to admit they have coronavirus because they do not think anything can be done for them and they do not want to become social outcasts. Mr Halawani said there are dozens of cases of infection in his neighbourhood, but many are hiding it and will not go to a clinic or hospital. A neighbour of his was tired and coughing, but when Mr Halawani “asked him if he was infected, he said it was simply flu”. Later a nurse in the neighbourhood clinic confirmed to Mr Halawani that the man did indeed have coronavirus.

He himself soon discovered how easy it is to acquire pariah status when he openly admitted that he had the illness.

A week after he had first been diagnosed, he was having difficulty in breathing, chest pain and had lost his sense of taste and smell. His doctor told him to eat lots of fruit and vegetables, but this was not as easy as it sounds. “I had announced to my neighbours that I was infected and they should not shake hands with me,” he recalled. But his honesty only meant that when he went out to buy fruit from the nearby groceries, they refused to sell him anything.

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“All the shopkeepers were shouting at me as soon as they saw me at a distance, though I was wearing a mask and gloves,” he said. He was forced to walk for an hour to shops in another district where he and his illness were not recognised. In his home district, even the minibuses would not take him because the drivers knew he was infected. “This is ridiculous,” he said. “I know many people in the neighbourhood who are also infected but they hide it. They claim that it is just a flu and go shopping and get on a bus and nobody criticises them.”

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Coronavirus, Syria 
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  1. mia says:

    Cocky shouldn’t jump up and down and open his israeli sparkling wine just yet. This won’t implement the Yinon plan for you. Or empty the land so your squatter friends can occupy it. Your ill hidden racist remarks aside, Syrians do seek help, from the Syrian health care and their allies such as Russia and China that have sent tons of equipment and expertise. Bs article.

  2. Terribly sad. What America has done to destroy civilization. It’s not clear, though, whether Ramiz Halawani was wearing a white helmet.

  3. Zimriel says:

    Magic Dirt Theory at Unz (not from Unz himself, note):
    – the CoVID-19 virus sickens people outside North America, but is a hoax inside these borders.

    • Replies: @Tsar Nicholas
  4. @Zimriel

    The flu sickens people too, and this is around the same level of lethality as the flu.

    Cockburn is a woke bedwetter as being a tool of the Military-Industrial Complex.

    • Agree: GeeBee
    • LOL: zimriel
  5. jsinton says:

    My God have mercy on Syria, and forgive us our sins for being complicit in the hardship.

  6. https://www.unz.com/pcockburn/syrians-face-calamity-as-trumps-sanctions-mix-with-surging-covid-19/

    I felt that P C’s above previous article gave a more complete picture of what the the Syrian population and government has been facing : 1- Daesh mercenary war now in its 9th year; 2- Israeli-Turkey- USA aerial bombings and land invasions in pincer moves from different corners of Syria; 3- a near complete Economic Blockade and Sanctions with the recently enacted Caesar Act as the ultimate, population culler; 4- the latter now augmented by a very harsh and deadly strain of Covid, propagating a very widespread pandemic further bearing down on their populace and the country’s remaining medical resources.

    Question to P.C: so with state governments in the US and also worldwide playing with their Covid statistics, why is it unreasonable that the pauperized and exhausted Syrian government play down the effects of Covid pandemic in order to keep the country’s morale as high as possible?

    Surely Israel and its servants in our US political class are only too glad to see Syria squeezed even more from every form and direction in order to propel the Zionist expansionist agenda against Syria. Israel’s protracted war against Syria has raised the concept of Total War first developed in the early 20th century, to a new heights.

    The US Congressional Caesar Act, claiming to help and protect a ground down population while in reality undertaking a slow genocide of a population through starvation and economic blockade, is really appalling an ultimate height of treacherous double speak

    The international structures for conflict resolution like the UN and other international bodies for defending against acts of war and aggression and providing serious humanitarian aid seem to be absent or collapsing with the Trump-Bibi-EU triumvirate calling the shots in this 21st century NWO destruction.

    The picture that is coming into focus in this Syrian fog of war, is that our Zio political elite has succeeded in turning the USA into a vassal state for attacking other countries without reasonable and just cause, with no political fall out at home.

    Three cheers for the Syrian people and their government for standing up to this unparalleled aggressive war the best they can all these years!

    • Agree: Ann Nonny Mouse
  7. Yeah, but this is the case for all nations. Registered cases are about 1/10th of assumed cases. I mean it sounds like propaganda from the Independent, but it’s very basic – this multiple has been bandied about on left, right, rainbow, darkness sites discussing Covid for a while now.

    Not to do with the state, but with testing – the UK doesn’t give anyone a test for free – why should Syria, they got no money at all. Barely enough for food and fuel!

  8. It’s just the flu, Patrick… stop being such a big girl’s blouse!

  9. RobbnHawk says:

    Something that so closely fits the model of a thing might be that thing. In this case fake news.

  10. polistra says:

    The Syrian government is opposed to Deepstate. Cockburn is part of Deepstate. I believe Syria.

    • Agree: Tsar Nicholas
  11. Brewer says:

    Strange how countries outside the reach of Western media seem to experience Covid as just another ‘flu virus.

    • Agree: Tsar Nicholas
  12. anon[327] • Disclaimer says:

    PC made this up after finishing a litre of Black Label.

    Still on floor.

    Don’t forget to deposit checks from Mossad, MI6, CIA.

    Nothing like brother Alex.

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