By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN (Reuters) - The U.N. refugee agency is stepping up efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 among tens of thousands of Syrians in camps in Jordan after the first cases were confirmed last week, the head of the agency in the country said on Saturday.
The UNHCR confirmed three cases in the country's largest camp for Syrian refugees, Zaatari, near the border with Syria, and two cases in a smaller camp, Azraq.
The infections in the two camps that house a total of around 120,000 refugees were the first confirmed cases since the pandemic was first reported in the kingdom last March.
"The developments this week have obviously been a worrying situation for all, but especially for refugees living in the camps. Crowded spaces and cramped living conditions make social distancing difficult," said Dominik Bartsch, the UNHCR representative in Jordan.
The refugees who tested positive for COVID-19 have been sent to an isolation area set up by the Jordanian government near the Dead Sea while families of those in contact with them have been quarantined inside the camp, the U.N. agency added.
Jordan's health ministry is, meanwhile, conducting thousands of tests, restricting movement in and out of the camps and training medical staff, Bartsch said.
The infections in the camps come at a time when COVID-19 cases been rising sharply in the country as a whole, since the start of the month.
Jordan is a major host country for Syrian refugees who have fled an almost decade-long civil war in their homeland. There are about 655,000 U.N.-registered Syrian refugees in the kingdom.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Pravin Char)