BEIRUT (AP) — More than 3 million Syrian students started school in government-held areas Sunday, marking the first school day amid strict measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, state media reported.
Syria, which had a population of 23 million before its conflict began in March 2011, has registered 3,506 confirmed coronavirus cases as well as 152 deaths in government-held areas. The actual number of cases is believed to be much higher, as the number of tests being done in the country is very low and many people in rural areas are unaware they are carrying the virus.
Coronavirus tests at private clinics cost around US$60, far to expensive for most Syrians, whose average salary is less than $100 a month. The government conducts about 300 free tests each day for people showing symptoms.
Among the precautionary measures taken by the Ministry of Education were the sanitizing of all classrooms, walls, floors, stairs and bathrooms of schools, state news agency SANA said. Students’ temperatures will be checked as well.
Minister of Education Darem Tabbah said school directors have been tasked with educating students on how to fight the spread of the coronavirus, and that every student will be required to wear a mask and seats in classrooms should be set at a safe distance apart.
SANA reported 3,735,521 students from different educational levels in all provinces are attending 13,280 schools.
Syrian government forces now control most of the country with the help of Russia and Iran, the two main backers of President Bashar Assad. The conflict that began more than nine years ago has killed about 400,000, wounded more than a million and displaced half of Syria’s population. More than 5 million have become refugees, mostly in neighboring countries.
According to the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, Syria’s crisis was a major blow to education with more than 7,000 schools damaged or destroyed and about 2 million children out of school.
Many students in areas outside government control, mostly in the northwestern province of Idlib, have missed attending school amid sporadic violence. Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the country, is home to more than 3 million people, many of them internally displaced from other parts of Syria.