President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and his wife, Asma, have tested positive for the coronavirus after experiencing mild symptoms, Mr. al-Assad’s office said on Monday. The pair are in good health and will continue work while quarantining at home for at least two weeks, his office added.
Their isolation period comes ahead of the 10-year anniversary of Syria’s civil war, as Mr. al-Assad faces an economy that is worse than at any time since the fighting began in 2011. Syrians were already living in ravaged cities with an ill-equipped health care system. As of Monday, the country of about 17 million has officially reported 15,981 infections and 1,063 deaths according to a New York times database. But cases are likely to be undercounted, experts have said, given that government data tends to hide the country’s struggles.
The fallout from the conflict, along with sweeping Western sanctions and lockdowns, has also left Syrians struggling to feed themselves. Food prices more than doubled in the last year and the World Food Program warned last month that more than 60 percent of the population, or about 12.4 million people were at risk of going hungry. Many Syrians have been left to resort to desperate measures to find fuel and sustenance for themselves and their families.
In a private meeting with pro-government journalists, Mr. al-Assad was asked about Syria’s economic meltdown, The New York Times reported in February.
“I know,” he said, according to two people with knowledge of the discussion. “I know.”
But he offered no concrete steps to fix the problems beyond floating this idea: Television channels should cancel cooking shows so as not to taunt Syrians with images of unattainable food.