Syria on Sunday confirmed its first case of coronavirus, in a person who had come from abroad.
Health Minister Nizar al-Yaziji told state media “necessary measures” had been taken regarding the 20 year-old woman, who he said would be quarantined for 14 days and given medical checks.
There have been unconfirmed reports in recent weeks of coronavirus cases in Syria, whose health system, housing and infrastructure have been ravaged by nine years of civil war, but the authorities have denied any outbreak.
Damascus announced a ban on public transport on Sunday as it stepped up a lockdown introduced in recent days, including the closure of schools, parks, restaurants and various public institutions, as well as calling off army conscription.
Medics say the country is also vulnerable with thousands of Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, who maintain a strong presence in main cities and have their headquarters in the Damascus Shia suburb of Sayeda Zainab.
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Iranian-backed militias still cross into Syria from the AlBukamal border crossing with Iraq.
Iran, one of the countries most affected by the pandemic outside China, is Syria’s main regional ally.
Iran’s Mahan Air still has regular flights from Tehran to Damascus, according to Western diplomats tracking Syria, even though other Syrian flights have been suspended.
Medics in the opposition-held northwest also fear the virus could spread quickly in crowded camps for tens of thousands of displaced Syrians.