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Coronavirus: Syria reports first death from pandemic

Syria has so far confirmed only five cases, and denied reports of a higher number of infections
A woman walks in empty Souk al-Hamidieh as restrictions are imposed as a measure to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease in Damascus, 24 March (Reuters)

Syria recorded its first coronavirus-related death on Sunday, after a woman rushed to hospital for emergency treatment was found to be infected.

Syria has officially reported only nine Covid-19 cases, but medics and witnesses say there are more.

"The woman died as soon as she was admitted to hospital," the health ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA. 

"After testing, it was found that she was a carrier of the coronavirus," the statement added, without providing additional details. 

While officials have played down a spread of the disease in the war-torn country, the government has imposed a lockdown and harsh measures to contain the pandemic.

A curfew that bans all trade activities and orders stores to shut from 6pm to 6am (15.00- 03.00 GMT) came into force last week, while schools and universities have been closed down.

The government on Sunday banned movement between provinces until 16 April.

It also enforced a decision to prohibit travel within the boundaries of each province until further notice. 

Aid groups have raised alarms about a possible outbreak of the virus in Syria, especially in the rebel-held Idlib province in the northwest, where violence has depleted healthcare facilities and hundreds of thousands of displaced people live in crowded camps. 

Last week, the World Health Organisation said it was setting up to start testing for Covid-19 in Idlib within days.

Just 64 percent of hospitals and 52 percent of primary healthcare centres that existed before 2011 are functioning, while 70 percent of the country's health workers have left.