April 30, 2020 / 6:05 PM / a month ago

In Syria's Idlib city, a caravan spreads the word about coronavirus

Volunteers dressed in coronavirus-themed costumes stand on a vehicle during a campaign organised by the Violet Organization, in an effort to spread awareness and encourage safety amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) fears, in the rebel-held Idlib city, Syria April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

IDLIB, Syria (Reuters) - A white caravan splashed with images of the coronavirus roams the streets of opposition-held Idlib city in northwest Syria where a volunteer tell passers-by of the virtues of social distancing and hygiene to avoid infection.

“We remind people that they should stay at home so they don’t mingle and remind them of a lurking danger that could at any moment enter our areas,” Ibrahim Sarmini, a volunteer in the charity called Violet, said of the campaign in the war-torn town.

Syria’s northwest does not yet have a confirmed case of the coronavirus, but doctors fear the area’s ravaged medical infrastructure and overflowing camps would quickly turn any outbreak into a humanitarian disaster.

“If the disease enters our areas it will be a catastrophe that no one can stop,” said Abdullah al Thamer, 33, a bemused resident who watched as the caravan passed by his home.

Doctors warn that camps would not cope in the event of an outbreak, with hospitals already struggling to treat even basic illnesses after nine years of war.

Even advice to stay at home is rarely heeded by many in the city whose inhabitants have been uprooted by war and most people need to go to work as daily wage earners to survive, residents say.

The government, backed by Russia and Iran, launched a push earlier this year to capture Idlib, sending hundreds of thousands of residents fleeing, many of them people who were already displaced.

Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Idlib; Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Matthew Lewis

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