The Syrian Ministry of Health said on Sunday that a woman who died after being rushed to hospital for emergency treatment had been infected with a coronavirus in the first death officially reported by the country.
Syria also said its confirmed cases had dropped to nine from five previously, but doctors and witnesses say there are many more. Authorities deny concealment, but have imposed a lockout and draconian measures, including a nationwide night curfew to stem the pandemic.
The measures taken to shut down businesses, schools, universities, mosques and most government offices, as well as to shut down public transportation, caused fear among war-weary residents.
Several cities have experienced panic purchases, with residents saying they have seen food shortages and increased demand that have pushed prices up before the start of the curfew.
The United Nations says the country is at high risk of a major epidemic due to a fragile health system devastated by a nine-year war and the lack of sufficient equipment to detect the virus, alongside a large number of vulnerable people.
The World Health Organization has warned that the country has limited capacity to cope with the rapid spread of the virus.
On Sunday, the military announced the end of an appeal to the army reserves. He has already ended conscription in what military defectors said was an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus among the base.
The government has also banned the movement of people between governorates. Security forces held checkpoints around provincial towns and only allowed army vehicles and essential services to pass, witnesses said.
Opposition figures and independent politicians say Damascus’ close ties to Iran, the most affected country in the region, are a source of contagion.
They say the virus is also transmitted by Iranian-backed militias who fight alongside the Syrian army, as well as Shiite pilgrims who visit shrines in Syria.
Western intelligence sources say that Shia militias proxies for Iran continue to cross the Qaim border post between Iraq and Syria, where they have a strong presence across the country.
In recent days, senior Syrian army officers have been on leave and ordered not to mix with Iranian-backed militias, military defectors said.
Syrian authorities have said that Damascus airport has interrupted commercial flights and that the government has also ordered the closure of its main border crossings with neighboring states.
Thousands of Shia pilgrims have arrived in Syria to visit the Sayeda Zainab Shrine in Damascus, a neighborhood which also houses the headquarters of the Iranian-backed militias.
Iraqi health officials confirmed on Sunday that Shia pilgrims returning from Syria had tested positive for the coronavirus, fearing that the trips would be a source of the wider spread of the disease.