Around 200 individuals, including UN staff working in Syria and their family members, have shown varying degrees of Covid-19 symptoms.

A Syrian worker disinfects a street to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Damascus, Syria on August 3, 2020.
A Syrian worker disinfects a street to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Damascus, Syria on August 3, 2020. (SANA via AP / AP)

More than 40 members of UN staff and their families have been infected by Covid-19 in Syria, according to a UN official who warned the illness was spreading in the war-torn country.

There were about 200 people including "staff and dependents, spouses, children, parents, who have displayed symptoms of Covid-19", said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"From these 200, there are 42 staff and dependents who have been confirmed positive with Covid-19," he added, speaking from Geneva, without specifying the nationalities of the infected personnel.

Three people had to be medically evacuated, but most of the others only had "mild" symptoms. The suspected cases were self-isolating for a 14-day period, he said, adding the virus had sickened people working at different UN agencies across the country.

"It caught us at a time where we have seen a very significant rise, or increase, in the level of Covid-19 in Syria," Laerke said.

"We believe community transmission is widespread, and that the actual cases exceeds those that are officially recorded."

Since the start of the pandemic, Syria has officially recorded 3,229 cases of Covid-19, with 137 deaths registered in zones controlled by Damascus, according to health ministry figures.

READ MORE: Militant groups in Syria upping attacks on civilians during pandemic – UN

Increase in cases

But in the past weeks, doctors and activists have voiced concern on social networks of a possible explosion in the number of virus cases.

Independent medics and relief workers say scores of doctors and medical workers have died in recent weeks.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said last week that frontline staff battling the virus in regime-held areas were dying in growing numbers for want of personal protective equipment

"It is bewildering that as the obituaries for doctors and nurses responding to the Covid-19 pandemic pile up, official numbers tell a story at odds with the reality on the ground," said HRW researcher Sara Kayyali.

The United Nations has expressed concern about the spread of the coronavirus in a country where the health infrastructure has been shattered by war and medical supplies are limited.

Witnesses and cemetery officials say there had been a tripling of burials since July in a cemetery that lies south of the capital, where NGOs and medics say most cases are concentrated.

Nine years of civil war have battered Syria's healthcare system, with hospitals damaged by bombing, vital equipment lacking and doctors wounded or forced to flee fighting.

The Syrian health ministry recently admitted it did not always have the capacity to carry out large-scale testing across different provinces.

READ MORE: Syria's northwest sees first confirmed case of coronavirus

Source: AFP