The Syrian Health Ministry on Sunday confirmed the first novel coronavirus case in the country, state TV reported. The person who was infected with coronavirus came from abroad, said the Health Ministry, Xinhua reported. All needed measures to deal with the case have been adopted, it added. Earlier on Sunday, the Syrian government suspended public transportation, the state news agency SANA reported. The new order will go into force on Monday evening and will be applied in all Syrian provinces, said SANA.
The measure comes as part of a series of measures the Syrian government has taken to protect the public from the novel coronavirus. On Saturday, the government ordered the shutdown of restaurants, cafes and government ministries.
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 or cover-up. The virus has been spreading in neighbouring countries.
UN officials and humanitarian workers fear a major outbreak in Syria could be particularly catastrophic. 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.
President Bashar al Assad issued a prisoner amnesty on Sunday, according to state media, which said it was a move to relieve congestion that risked the spread of the virus.
Medics say the country is also vulnerable with thousands of Iranian-backed militias fighting alongside Assad's forces, who maintain a strong presence in Syria's big cities and have their headquarters in the Damascus Shi'ite suburb of Sayeda Zainab.