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Libya: Amidst conflict and coronavirus

The preoccupation by the protagonists to Libya’s conflict with outdoing each other in the field of battle has left the tip of the spear of war against a rampaging coronavirus with a blunt edge.The stalemate in the conflict between forces loyal to the internationally backed government in Tripoli and soldiers backing renegade General Khalifa Hafter based in Benghazi has opened a new front – the war against the virus.

With a barely functioning government, the North African country’s strategy to tackle the pandemic remains far from effective as the latest spate of Covid-19 infections shows.

Latest figures suggest that Monday registered one of the biggest single-day jumps in cases after the Health ministry confirmed 229 new infections.

This brings the total number of cases of the virus just above 4000 and related deaths to 93.

Since Libya descended into chaos following the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, life in one of Africa’s most stable and prosperous countries has turned into a daily grind for its people. 

Many of them becoming refugees overnight, have been struggling hard to survive the protracted conflict.

The ongoing battle for control of the country has destroyed infrastructure including health facilities which would have been pivotal in fighting the coronavirus which was first confirmed in the country last March,  

The dire humanitarian situation that came in the wake of the conflict exposes large sections of the Libyan population to the dangers of contracting the coronavirus.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Libyan medics have been struggling to cope with the worsening humanitarian situation.

Now the health system has been overstretched beyond breaking point and this is leaving medical workers vulnerable to infection.

 Despite the rival authorities in Libya taking preventive measures to curb the spread of the disease in areas under their control, attacks targeting Covid treatment centres have undermined these efforts and enhance the chances of multiple infections among patients, health workers and other support staff.

Following one such attack targeting the Alki Khadra General Hospital in Tripoli, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) condemned the incident as unacceptable given the importance of healthcare and health workers in the campaign against the pandemic. 

“This senseless escalation must stop so that health authorities and aid agencies can respond to COVID-19 and continue reaching people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance” it demanded. 

However, the hospital was again targeted with rocket several hours later, underlining just how Libyan will have to fend for themselves in the face of danger from two fronts, one against armed conflict, the other against a virus whose deadly intent has been amply demonstrated elsewhere in the world.

Published on 28.04.2020

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