Syrian town sealed off as cross-border truck drivers test positive for coronavirus

The Jaber-Nasib crossing point between Jordan and Syria. Drivers using it have tested positive for Covid-19

Syria has on the town of Ras al-Ma’ara following a cornavirus outbreak there which has so far resulted in 20 people becoming infected. This is the largest cluster of related cases reported by the Syrian authorities since the pandemic began.

According to government figures, Syria has had only 144 confirmed cases since the first one was detected on March 22, and until last Thursday the virus appeared to be in retreat. During the previous nine days only two new cases had been recorded.

On Thursday, however, a truck driver who apparently lives in Ras al-Ma’ara — some 60km north of Damascus and close to the Lebanese border — was .

On Sunday, the health ministry announced that in the town who had been “in close contact” with the driver were also infected, and on Monday it announced .

This is reminiscent of last-month’s case of a cross-border truck driver in Jordan who returned from Saudi Arabia while incubating the virus and ignored the self-isolation rules — with the result that became infected.

The Ras al-Ma’ara truck driver also works in cross-border transport, plying the route between Syria and Jordan. A , working on the same route, was also diagnosed on Saturday according to the Syrian health ministry. The implication is that both drivers contracted the disease in Jordan, though the Syrian authorities haven’t explicitly said so.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border, Jordanian authorities have reported two cases among truck drivers of unspecified nationality arriving from Syria at the Jaber-Nasib crossing point — one on Friday and one on Sunday.

Jordan has had with infected truck drivers on its southern border with Saudi Arabia but until last week none had been reported on its northern border with Syria.

Infections among drivers coming from Saudi Arabia are not particularly surprising, since the kingdom has recorded more than 100,000 cases overall. Jordan and Syria, though, have much lower numbers. Syria’s official total (which not everyone believes) is a mere 144 cases, while Jordan’s (based on more transparent information) is 831.

In the light of those low numbers it would be a huge coincidence if four people, all of them truck drivers on the same route, had picked up the virus from different sources in the space of four days. It’s much more likely there’s a single source — so far unidentified.

Tracing the source and preventing further occurrences is going to require cooperation between the Syrian and Jordanian governments which, given the nature of the Syrian regime, may not be straightforward.

Further information:

Middle East updates

New cases

A further 12,384 Covid-19 infections have been reported in the Middle East and North Africa since .

Saudi Arabia reported the region’s biggest day-on-day increase with 3,369 new cases, followed by Iran with 2,043.

Egypt, Iraq and the UAE each reported more than a thousand new cases.

The list below shows cumulative totals (excluding Iran) since the outbreak began, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

Algeria 10,265 (+111)
Bahrain 15,731 (+968)
Egypt 35,444 (+1,365)
Iraq 13,481 (+1,115)
Israel 18,089 (+174)
Jordan 831 (+23)
Kuwait 33,140 (+990)
Lebanon 1,350 (+19)
Libya 332 (+76)
Morocco 8,408 (+158)
Oman 18,198 (+712)
Palestine 652 (+1)
Qatar 70,158 (-)
Saudi Arabia 105,283 (+3,369)
Sudan 6,242 (+161)
Syria 144 (+3)
Tunisia 1,087 (-)
UAE 39,904 (+1,096)
Yemen 500 (+12)

TOTAL: 378,739 (+10,341)

Note: Yemen’s total includes four cases reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country. Palestine’s total includes East Jerusalem.

New Covid-19 cases reported in the Middle East (excluding Iran) day by day during the past two months

Death toll

A further 200 coronavirus-related deaths were reported in the region yesterday — 70 of them in Iran. Egypt and Saudi Arabia each reported 34 deaths.

The list below shows cumulative totals in the region outside Iran, with day-on-day increases in brackets.

TOTAL: 4,920 (+130)

Note: Yemen’s total includes one death reported by the unrecognised Houthi government in the north of the country.

Originally published at .

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: . Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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