More than 200 UN staff have been infected by COVID-19 in Syria as the global body steps up contingency plans to combat the fast spread of the pandemic in the country.
UN Resident Co-ordinator and Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Syria, Imran Riza, has told UN heads of agencies in a letter to distribute to staff the UN is in the final stages of securing a medical facility for treatment of cases.
"More than two hundred cases have been reported among UN staff members, some of whom have been hospitalised and three who were medically evacuated," the top UN official in Syria said in the letter last Tuesday.
Humanitarian workers and medics say the real number of cases is considerably higher, including the hundreds of staff employed by NGO partners working for the dozen UN agencies that oversee the country's largest humanitarian relief operations.
Riza said there had been a tenfold spike in infections in Syria in the two months since he last briefed staff, referring to health ministry figures saying there have been 3171 cases and 134 deaths since March 23.
"The epidemiological situation across the country has changed considerably," Riza said.
Damascus-based medics and relief workers are skeptical of official figures, saying the authorities are covering up.
The authorities deny that but admit testing is limited.
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.
Independent medics and relief workers say scores of doctors and medical workers have died in recent weeks.
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.