Around 40 members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) militia fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria have been taken to hospital on suspicion of having contracted the coronavirus, according to local monitoring site Eye of the Euphrates.
Some 25 militia fighters of Iranian and Afghan nationality stationed in the city of Al Bukamal were taken to hospital in the city of Deir az-Zour in eastern Syria after they reportedly began showing symptoms of Covid-19.
A further 15 soldiers were handed over to Iraq’s paramilitary force the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and transferred to a facility in neighbouring Iraq.
The report added that all of the soldiers in question had been quarantined for the previous two days under instruction from the IRGC leadership.
Eye of the Euphrates reported on Friday that IRGC and Syrian regime forces shut down the area surrounding Al Bukamal’s hospital after 16 cases of Covid-19 were discovered. The outbreak was supposedly started by an infected person coming over from Lebanon.
Medical staff in the hospital have been threatened by foreign and regime soldiers against leaking information about the numbers of coronavirus infections or suspected cases, according to the source.
The Syrian Health Ministry said six new coronavirus cases were registered on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 25. It added that two of those infected had died, and five had recovered.
Rumours had circulated weeks before Syria officially confirmed its first coronavirus case on 22 March that foreign pro-regime fighters had already transmitted the virus into the ranks of the Syrian regime army.
Last week, the regime sealed off the town of Sayyida Zainab in the outskirts of Damascus as a coronavirus “precaution”, however the area is known to house many foreign fighters.
Meanwhile activists have also alleged that the regime is covering up a Covid-19 outbreak in eastern Syria, another area where Iranian militias have a strong presence.
Thousands of IRGC forces and paramilitary volunteers from Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani Shia groups are thought to be fighting in Syria, many of them stationed on the southern and southeastern border in Deir az-Zour province, where Islamic State militants still operate in pockets.