Shortage of masks and respirators, lack of hospital space, muddled government action: inadequate responses to the COVID-19 outbreak are evident even in the world's most stable countries. So what happens when the virus arrives in places already under the weight of war?

Yemen: Given the ongoing stalemate, many had hoped Saudi Arabia would take the opportunity of the global pandemic to cut its losses, and pull out of Yemen altogether. The first coronavirus case was recorded in Yemen this week, coinciding with Saudi Arabia announcing a ceasefire with the Houthi rebels. Yet Houthi forces were wary of the truce and broke the ceasefire within in 48 hours, according to the Saudi-backed coalition fighting to restore Yemen's former government. For Yemeni civilians stuck between war and illness, half the UN's aid in the country will shut down due to a funding crisis caused by a withdrawal from donors such as the United States earlier this year.

Syria: So far, COVID-19's toll in the war-ravaged nation are only 2 deaths and 19 confirmed cases, but testing for the virus is woefully lacking. As 70% of healthcare workers left at the beginning of the civil war in 2011, the population has already been vulnerable to poor health for nearly a decade. Al Jazeera reports that social distancing is nearly impossible in displacement camps in Idlib, the last province held by the rebels.

Ukraine: The arrival of the virus did nothing to quiet the war between Kiev and Russian separatists in Donbass. With around 30 soldiers killed and 85 injured, March was one of the deadliest months on the front since the conflict started six years ago, according to Courrier International. And since April began? Ukraine has registered more than 3700 coronavirus cases and 107 deaths, but also 66 attacks from separatist forces.

Raising awareness in Syria — Photo: Moawia Atrash/ZUMA

Libya: Though only 26 cases have been recorded, the United Nations fears a potential outbreak spreading as military operations continue to ravage the country, with civilians trapped amid the clashes. Libya may be unable to cope with an outbreak as hospitals and clinics, damaged during the conflict, are already struggling with large numbers of victims of the fighting. "This is a health system that was close to collapse before you get the coronavirus", Elizabeth Hoff, head of mission for the WHO in Libya, told Reuters.

Sahel: The northern African region has been subjected to terrorist attacks since 2012. Entire areas in Mali have been cut off from state services, because of jihadist insurgencies and intercommunity conflicts, reports Le Monde, while fears are rising for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people living in packed camps across Sahel. "If we have coronavirus here, it will be a catastrophe," a man living in one of the three camps outside Mali's capital Bamako told The North Africa Journal. People living in these camps have been advised to use turbans as face masks, as protective gear is scarce.


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