MERCED (BLJ) – The Merced County Public Health Department reported today that there were 34 confirmed cases of COVID-19, still only one death, and three recoveries. In California, a total of 16,363 cases were reported to date, 387 deaths and 307 recoveries. In the United States, a total of 401,608 confirmed cases were reported to date, 12,902 deaths, and 22,398 recoveries. The global total to date is 1,430,453, deaths 82,133, and recoveries 301,385.
Fears over hidden Covid-19 outbreak in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria
Number of cases may far exceed official figures amid claims of quarantining by non-state actors
Martin Chulov Middle East correspondent
Health and other officials focused on Lebanon, Iraq and Syria fear the numbers of people infected with coronavirus far exceed the official figures disclosed by all three governments, and claim non-state actors are quarantining entire communities of patients in areas outside state control.
Officials, including bureaucrats, aid workers and international observers, who spoke with the Guardian over the past week say parts of Lebanon and Iraq in particular are likely to be holding thousands more infected people, and that a lack of disclosure poses a serious health risk over the next three months.
They also claim coronavirus patients are being housed and guarded by political groups in central and southern Iraq and southern Lebanon.
An even worse scenario is thought to be unfolding in Syria, where weak state structures, an internally displaced population of 7 million, and the fact large chunks of the country remainoutside central government control make controlling the spread of the virus almost impossible.
Ground and air links between all three countries have been largely severed, but there are deepening concerns that large numbers of virus carriers were able to return before borders were sealed in mid-March.
Returnees to Lebanon had arrived from all over the world, with a priest travelling from Italy thought to be responsible for one cluster, and travellers from Milan and London for others. However, the focus of concern has been on arrivals from the Iranian city of Qom, to where the biggest regional outbreak has been sourced.
Large numbers of Iraqi and Lebanese people, including religious pilgrims and merchants, had been in Qom as the crisis escalated and were gradually brought back by bus and plane to Baghdad and Beirut, where only small numbers of patients from their communities are being treated in public hospitals.
The leader of Hezbollah, the powerful political bloc-cum-militia, in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, has said its returning members have been placed in quarantine and has vowed to be transparent about infections.
However, so far there have been no announcements from the group about the numbers of suspected or confirmed cases, and concerns are mounting that Lebanon’s relatively low official number of cases – 412 as of Sunday night – is actually much higher.
The spectre of a parallel health structure dealing with its own casualties has caused alarm among serving and former health officials, who say the central government should have access to patient data and be responsible for treatment.
“We are not saying this to make a problem for a certain political party, or area of the country,” said one official who, like all others spoken with, refused to be named. “But we know there is a much bigger problem in Lebanon than has been acknowledged.”
Similarly, the official Iraqi number of 547 has been widely challenged both inside the country and around the region. “People are dying in their homes with this disease across the country and being buried without authorities acknowledging what killed them. The numbers, and the areas of infection, need to be truly understood or else efforts to stop the pandemic elsewhere may be sabotaged.”