Syria president’s office: Assad, wife recovering from virus

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s first couple are on their way to recovery nine days after testing positive for the coronavirus, President Bashar Assad’s office said Wednesday.

Assad, 55, and his wife have had mild symptoms of the illness and are continuing their work as usual from home. They plan return to normal life once they test negative for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, the presidency said.

Syria has registered 16,656 cases of coronavirus, including 1,110 deaths in government-held areas. The numbers are believed to be much higher because of limited testing being done, particularly in areas of northern Syria outside government control.

Examinations of the first couple show their health “is gradually returning to normal,” the presidency statement said. “They are in a stage of recovery.”

Assad’s wife, Asma, who is 10 years younger, announced her recovery from breast cancer in 2019.

The pandemic, which has severely tested even developed countries, has been a major challenge for Syria’s health care sector, already depleted by years of conflict.

Syria has been mired in civil war for 10 years since anti-government protests that began as part of Arab Spring uprisings turned into an insurgency in response to a military crackdown. A decade of fighting has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.

Earlier this month, Syria began a vaccination campaign amid rising numbers of infections. The health minister said the government procured the vaccines from a friendly country, which he declined to name.

The announcement came days after international and Israeli media reports revealed that Israel paid Russia $1.2 million to provide the Syrian government with coronavirus vaccines. It was reportedly part of a deal that secured the release of an Israeli woman held in Damascus. The terms of the clandestine trade-off negotiated by Moscow remained murky. Damascus denied it happened and Russia had no comment.

It was not immediately clear if Assad, who has been in power since taking over from his late father in 2000, or any of his family members have been vaccinated.

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