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Covid-19: Northeast Syria running out of testing kits, IRC warns

Organisation says area has seen a surge in cases in recent weeks and crisis it faces will be made worse if testing stops
The Syrian semi-autonomous region's only Covid laboratory, in the city of Qamishli, could be forced to stop Covid testing "due to a critical shortage" of kits (AFP)

The Kurdish-governed region of northeastern Syria will run out of Covid-19 testing equipment in a week, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warned on Thursday.

The area has witnessed a surge in cases in recent weeks and the health crisis it's already facing will be made worse if testing stops, the New-York based aid organisation said in a statement.

"Testing capacity in the northeast has never been sufficient, and now it may be lost altogether," IRC regional policy director Misty Buswell said.

The IRC said the semi-autonomous region's only Covid laboratory, located in the city of Qamishli, "could be forced to stop Covid testing in less than seven days due to a critical shortage" of kits.

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"This would have a devastating impact on testing capacity, with health professionals no longer able to identify new cases, track trends, or gain an understanding of the true spread of the disease - just as cases are surging," it said.

The IRC said the war-battered region's anti-Covid health infrastructure was "getting very close" to breaking point.

'We fear things will only get worse'

The number of detected cases in northeast Syria officially stands at only 15,769, but testing has been limited. 

The figure rose by 243 percent between March and April and close to half of the tests were positive over the past week. 

"Currently, 83 percent of patients who receive invasive ventilation in the region are not surviving and we fear that things will only get worse," Buswell said.

Northeast Syria has been allocated 100,000 vaccine doses from a batch that arrived last week in Damascus courtesy of Covax, the World Health Organisation-backed scheme to provide jabs to countries in need.

However, the area is yet to receive them and there is no clear schedule for their delivery.

The IRC said there was an urgent need for international support and funding for the Covid response effort in the region, access to which is difficult.

The region's main humanitarian lifeline, the al-Yarubiyah border crossing with Iraq, has remained closed at the behest of Russia, a UN Security Council permanent member, AFP reported.