by Mahmoud Hassano
NORTH IDLIB, Syria, Dec 22 (Reuters)
Displaced from Aleppo, Qassem Ahmad Sharraq Al-Zeit is bracing for a Syrian winter under canvas - with the struggle to keep his wife and four children protected against the bitter cold compounded by the threat of a coronavirus outbreak.
So far, five COVID cases have been reported at the Zuhour camp outside the northwestern cit7y of Idlib, run by the anti-government Free Syrian Army and where Al-Zeit and around 1,000 other Syrians are leading a hand-to-mouth existence.
But cases have increased steadily in northwest Syria since July, says French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and, with tents overcrowded and basic health services and sanitation lacking, it believes the risks of a significant outbreak at the camp and others like it are high.
"We hope we are not forgotten from getting the vaccine just like we have been forgotten by our country," Al-Zeit told Reuters TV.
Around 4 million of Syria's population are displaced following the country's civil war, and a crumbling infrastructure makes it unlikely they will be prioritised when vaccine rollouts get under way.
There is some hope, meanwhile, in the actions of a local charity that is erecting cement buildings around the camp to serve as better quarantine facilities and help keep those who test positive isolated.
Registered COVID cases in northern Syria rose by 91 to 19,538 on Monday, the interim regional government's health ministry said. Fatalities stand at 289.
(Writing by Mai Shams El Din; editing by Seham Eloraby and John Stonestreet)