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  • Libya is split between two separate and warring administrations.

    Libya is split between two separate and warring administrations. | Photo: EFE

Published 25 March 2020
Opinion

"There is an extremely limited capacity to test and diagnose coronavirus cases, so the likelihood that there is, in fact, only one case is very small," a humanitarian worker based in Libya said. 

The Health Minister of the United Nations (U.N.)-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, Ahmed Ben Omar, confirmed Tuesday Libya's first case of coronavirus in a brief statement.

RELATED: Libya: Before and After Muammar Gaddafi

"The necessary measures have been taken to treat [the patient]," Ben Omar said.

The National Centre for Disease Control said the patient is a 73-year-old man who came back from a trip to Saudi Arabia via Tunisia on March 5. He is now being treated in isolation at a healthcare facility in the capital, Tripoli.

A top oil producer, Libya has been plunged into chaos since a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-backed an uprising that toppled former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The war-torn country is now split between the GNA in Tripoli and a rival administration under the command of Khalifa Haftar, a militia chief whose forces control much of eastern Libya and who started in April 2019 an assault on the capital.

Groups loyal to Haftar seized in January several oil export harbors that were under the nominal command of the GNA to pressure its reserves of hard currency to the limit. The move cost the GNA more than US$3.5bn in lost revenue, according to Libya's National Oil Corporation.

Libya's economy depends almost entirely on the oil sector, which virtually represents the totality of its exports. Authorities in Tripoli rely on this source of income to pay state workers, including those working in the health sector.

"After years of endless conflict, it [healthcare system] has deteriorated to the point that Libya is one of the least prepared countries in the world, especially in terms of surveillance, monitoring and ability to detect cases," said Liam Kelly, a humanitarian aid worker based in Tripoli. 

"Concretely, there is an extremely limited capacity to test and diagnose coronavirus cases, so the likelihood that there is, in fact, only one case is very small. More undetected cases almost certainly exist."

Also, and to make things worse, clashes resumed Tuesday in the south of the capital, despite U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' calls to a ceasefire in conflicts worldwide during the pandemic.

Both administrations had already imposed a curfew and closed several public venues. Still, experts said the moves wouldn't have any efficiency in tackling the spread of the virus if the fighting continues.

More than 465,000 people worldwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the coronavirus. Some 113,000 have recovered, but almost 21,000 have died, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

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