Armed fighters loyal to Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar have attacked medical warehouses belonging to a hospital in the capital Tripoli that is treating coronavirus patients, the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has said.
The attack targeted depots of the Al-Khadra Hospital in al-Swani in the capital, Tripoli, with Grad missiles, according to a statement by the GNA.
Last week, the UN condemned heavy shelling of the hospital in which at least three civilians were wounded, calling it a “clear violation of international law”.
The North African country has so far reported 25 cases of the coronavirus and one death.
Since 2014, Libya has been split between two rival administrations: the GNA led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is based in Tripoli while the House of Representatives, allied to renegade military commander Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA), is based in the country’s east.
In an interview with Reuters news agency in March, the head of the Libyan National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Badereldine al-Najar, said: “In light of the lack of preparations, I now consider Libya not in a position to confront this virus.”
Last week, Libyan authorities announced the release of more than 450 prisoners as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the country.
The detainees were in pre-trial detention or had qualified for conditional release, according to a statement by the internationally recognised government’s justice ministry.
Libya has enforced a nationwide curfew from 2pm to 7am, and prohibited intercity travel to curb the spread of the virus.
Libya was among the 27 countries “most vulnerable to emerging outbreaks” in the Global Health Security Index report published last month. It is also considered a high-risk country for COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.
“Doctors and first responders, who need to be trained on infection prevention and equipped with PPE, are routinely called back to the frontlines to treat war wounded. Local community healthcare workers are also already overloaded,” Maria Carolina, deputy head of sub-delegation for the Red Cross (ICRC) in Tripoli, told Al Jazeera.
“Even the most advanced healthcare systems in highly stable and resource-rich countries have struggled to cope. A further COVID-19 outbreak will have a tremendously adverse impact on medical staff in Libya.”
Last month, Human Rights Watch said Libya’s healthcare system was “battered by intermittent armed conflicts and political divisions since 2011”, warning that it will be unable to cope with large numbers of patients if infections spread.