In a press conference about coronavirus a few days ago, Nazar Yazji, the health minister of the ruling Syrian regime stated: “The Arab Syrian army has sterilized many of the bacteria on Syria’s lands.” This launched a wave of jokes and satire, since he referred to the war against Syrian people rather than the war against the pandemic, there’s also the fact that the army has nothing to do with containing the virus. The minister also used the general term “bacteria” rather than coronavirus so are we to understand that the current man in charge of the Syrian health ministry does not know the difference between the virus plaguing the world today and other “bacteria”? Or was his choice of the word “bacteria” a reference to Syrians opposing the regime, rather than the virus itself?
A few days following this statement, the minister announced the first reported case of coronavirus: a man who had just returned to Syria from abroad.
However, before this announcement was made schools and universities were shut, the borders were closed which meant that even Syrians wishing to return to their home country couldn’t do so anymore. National television broadcasts suddenly showed video footage of the streets being sterilized. As soon as the announcement of the first case was made, the Interior Ministry stated that it had enforced a 6 PM curfew, banned gatherings, and closed all stores except supermarkets and pharmacies, while restaurants were now only allowed to do take out deliveries. Furthermore, people were also forbidden to travel between cities and counties. Despite all these measures, the regime insisted that there was only one case of coronavirus in the country and that the infected person was on the road to recovery. However, media and human rights organizations have stated that there were in fact hundreds of coronavirus cases in Syria, and most of these cases originated from armed fighters and Iranian “pilgrims”. If state media is to be believed, the Assad regime has equipped Syria to fight off any pandemic diseases and safeguard the Syrian peoples’ health. Nevertheless, any one who knows regime media agencies knows that they lie about everything, even the weather forecasts. How could anyone believe that a regime that has killed half a million of its people, displaced half of its population would be prepared to protect the remaining inhabitants from disease? No one wishes for the virus to spread in Syria, as that would be another disaster for the Syrian people. According to statistics provided by international organizations, 83 per cent of the Syrian population is living below the poverty line; moreover many inhabitants are internally displaced.
If the virus becomes widespread, the Syrian regime will surely exploit the catastrophe to ask to sanctions to be lifted, just as the Iranian regime is doing now. Even if sanctions are lifted from both Tehran and Damascus, it is doubtful that these regimes will provide care for their people, rather they will most likely continue using violence and corruption to abuse the Iranian and Syrian people, respectively. If the Assad regime was serious about stopping the spread of coronavirus, then it would have forced Iranian (and pro-Tehran) militias to leave. However, earlier Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, said that his fighters were being tested for coronavirus before being sent to Syria, effectively stating that his fighters were allowed to kill Syrian with weapons but not contagious diseases.
The WHO’s representative to Syria recently announced that the organization sent the regime 1,200 testing kits, even before it declared its first positive case for coronavirus. This shows that international organizations can provide help to Syria, even without its regime asking for sanctions to be lifted. If the regime was left in charge of fighting the virus, then it would have done what its health minister said and sent soldiers to kill its own civilians and not eradicate the disease. The regime will also surely use the coronavirus as another means of blackmail against the international community, just as it uses terrorism and the threat of attacking Israel to get what it wants on the international stage. Although, opposition and revolutionary forces will have to alert in the coming days, the ones who will pay the biggest price for the regime’s negligence will be the Syrian people.