AMMAN (Reuters) - The Syrian government said on Wednesday it extended a nationwide curfew to stem the spread of coronavirus but had eased a tight lockdown by allowing all businesses and public markets to go back to work.
The government imposed the nationwide curfew just over a month ago after it announced its first official confirmed coronavirus case following weeks of denying claims of a cover-up by medical sources and witnesses who said there were many more cases.
U.N. bodies and humanitarian workers have warned the country, which has now reported 43 confirmed cases and three deaths, is at high risk with a fragile health sector and lack of sufficient resources in the event of a major outbreak.
Under pressure to soften the economic impact on the sanctions-hit country ravaged by a nine-year civil war, the authorities more than a week ago allowed a partial return to work for a wide range of professions and businesses.
The government said the decision will allow once bustling bazaars to fully reopen. The lockdown has hit a merchant class that have traditionally relied on a surge in spending during the fasting month of Ramadan that began last week.
“The ministerial committee agrees to the opening of all popular markets and all commercial industrial enterprises and services firms,” said the government statement adding that the opening hours were restricted between 8 am to 5 pm.
“All enterprises and shops must stick to public safety and disinfecting their shops,” the statement said.
In recent weeks, the strict measures have led to panic buying during the day people are allowed to shop before the curfew, leading to shortages and price hikes as the local currency came under renewed pressure against the dollar.
Many daily wage earners have been left struggling without income and deepening poverty among the country’s population.
Damascus’s moves included restricting movements between provinces and halting military conscription and the call up of reserves to stem the pandemic within the ranks of the army.
The cabinet also decided to begin a phased resumption of work in government ministries that had been closed, with the aim of a full return to work after the end of Ramadan late in May.
The government, however, decided to end the school year for students, who had earlier been expected to return to school after May 2.
The authorities also said it hoped in the coming few days to lift a quarantine of the Sayeda Zainab suburb of Damascus where a major Shi’ite shrine visited by Iranian and Iraqi pilgrims is believed by U.N. officials to have been a main source of the contagion.
Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Lincoln Feast.