COVID-19 has paralysed Syria’s economy and social life more than bombs

The lockdown to contain the coronavirus has made a bad situation worse.  Day labourers, craftsmen and small business owners are the most affected. The authorities’ figures are questionable. Ten lung ventilators donated by Pope Francis as part of the ‘Open Hospitals’ project are set to arrive in the coming days.


Damascus (AsiaNews) – The lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic has "paralysed" social life in Syria and weakened an economy already battered by war and international sanctions, this according to some local Christian leaders.

More and more people are struggling, especially day labourers, craftsmen and small business owners who depend on daily earnings to survive. On the positive side, ten lung ventilators should arrive shortly as part of the ‘Open Hospitals’ project. Pope Francis donated them last month to the country’s three Catholic medical facilities through the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

For now, except for food stores, pharmacies and bakeries, everything is closed, this according to Nabil Antaki, a Christian doctor in Aleppo. Schools, universities, factories and workshops are still locked down and a curfew is still in place from 6pm to 6am.

In addition to workers, "retirees, the unemployed and the sick" face the most hardships, and lack “any source of income”. But by and large, people follow the protocols: "wear masks, no kissing (which is customary in the Mideast), use disinfectants.”

“Difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that, at this time of global pandemic, NGOs and charities have slowed down their activities significantly.”

For some Christian leaders the sanctions must end to ease the suffering of the population. For the Maronite archbishop of Damascus, they have plunged the country in a "deep pit”. The apostolic vicar of Aleppo views them as a "crime" that "crushes people,” whilst a Christian doctor considers them an “obstacle” in the fight against COVID-19.

Pope Francis himself, in his Easter message, called for sanctions to be eased without mentioning Syria and Iran. Meanwhile, “Life is difficult at present,” said Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh, from the Latin parish of Aleppo, during a videoconference organised by Pro Terra Sancta.

“The coronavirus has reached Syria,” he explained, with 47 cases, 27 people healed and three deaths. However, official figures “have not been verified,” another source told AsiaNews, as the authorities "have imposed strict censorship" on information concerning the pandemic, and “no one dares contradict the propaganda”.

For ordinary people matters are bound to get worse. “The cost of living has skyrocketed,” noted Fr Ibrahim. A government employee, whose salary was once adequate for a stable and dignified income for the family, today cannot even "buy bread and onions for a month”.

People "knock on the doors of the convent to ask for help," he said. We provide "food parcels, medicines and cash” for "surgeries". But the main problem "is hunger" and everyone agrees that "the current situation is worse than when the city was under the bombs.”