‘A choice between bread and masks’: Syrians face calamity as Trump’s new sanctions combine with surging coronavirus

  A hospital nurse describes the disastrous impact of the US ‘Caesar Act’ sanctions and the spread of Covid-19 that Syrian authorities have played down, writes Patrick Cockburn

Residents around Damascus say they have having to make tough choices over food or protections against coronavirus

Residents around Damascus say they have having to make tough choices over food or protections against coronavirus ( AFP/Getty )

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“If I don’t buy masks or medicine, I may die or survive, but if I don’t buy bread for the family, we will all die of starvation,” says a retired 68-year-old teacher in Damascus” , explaining why he does not have masks, sterilisers or medicines. “We need two bundles of loaves every day which costs us at least 600 Syrian pounds (24 US cents), but if we buy masks, they will cost us about 1000 SP (40 cents). The choice is between bread and masks.”

Millions of ordinary Syrians are having to choose between buying food to eat and taking precautionary measures against coronavirus, which local witnesses say is much more widespread than the Syrian government admits.

Poverty and deprivation have worsened dramatically since the US introduced all-embracing sanctions on Syria on 17 June under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, which Donald Trump signed into law late last year. Named after the individual who documented the murder of thousands of Syrians by the Syrian government (Syrian officials deny the allegations), the legislation is supposedly intended to restrain it from carrying out further acts of repression.

In practice the Caesar Act does little to weaken President Bashar al-Assad and his regime, but it does impose a devastating economic siege on a country where civilians are already ground down by nine years of war and economic embargo. The eight in 10 Syrians who are listed by the UN as falling below the poverty line must now cope with a sudden upsurge in the coronavirus pandemic.

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