Syria's Bashar Assad, Wife Asma Test Positive for COVID-19

Syrian President Bashar Assad and his wife, Asma, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to his office.

The official Twitter account of the Syrian presidency announced Monday that both Assad and his wife had been infected, but said both "are in good health and in stable condition."

Assad and Asma will "continue their work during their home quarantine period, which will last for two or three weeks," the statement continued.

The president's office account said the dictator and his wife are "wishing for the safety and well-being of all Syrians and all peoples of the world from this virus," adding that the couple "call on all Syrians to continue to follow the precautions and precautions as much as possible."

The 55-year-old dictator has been fighting for control of the country through almost a decade of brutal civil war, with the help of allies in Iran and Russia.

Assad's forces have routinely committed war crimes against the rebels and civilians, including repeated chemical weapons attacks on residential areas.

Such war crimes have prompted Western nations, led by the U.S., to launch airstrikes against regime forces. Former President Donald Trump dismissed Assad as "a monster," while President Joe Biden supported arming the opposition while serving as President Barack Obama's vice president.

Biden's administration is now pressing for a political settlement in Syria, though has vowed "to push for meaningful reform and accountability for the Assad regime."

Mass opposition to Assad's regime fractured as the Syrian uprising spiraled into civil war, with extremist Islamist groups eventually overwhelming secular and moderate movements and becoming the main opposition.

Damascus and its allies in Moscow and Tehran have long framed all rebel groups as foreign terrorists. With his allies' help, Assad has been able to take back control of much of the country, despite reports of internal friction within the regime and the Assad family that heads it.

Only the Islamist-controlled Idlib pocket in the northwest and Kurdish-held territory in the northeast now remain outside regime control.

The country has been broken by the war, in which more than 560,000 people are believed to have been killed according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than 12 million are thought to have been displaced, with at least 5 million of those fleeing abroad as refugees.

Coronavirus has run rampant in this failed state, though the collapsed health care system and weak regime control make it impossible to say just how badly the pandemic has affected the country. Displaced populations, malnourished and squeezed into unsanitary and crowded makeshift accommodation, are particularly vulnerable.

Johns Hopkins University has recorded 16,000 infections and 1,000 deaths in regime-held Syria since the start of the pandemic. There have been at least 8,600 cases and more than 311 deaths in the Kurdish territories, and another 21,000 infections and 408 fatalities in rebel-held Idlib.

The real figure is likely much higher across the country. Syria has now approved Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and hopes to kickstart a vaccination drive. But there are concerns that the regime may withhold the vaccine from those suspected of disloyalty to the Assad family, as it has done with other medical care.

Authorities in Idlib, meanwhile, have applied to the World Health Organization's COVAX Initiative and hope to receive the first shipment of vaccines in late March.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad and wife Asma
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (C-R) and First Lady Asma al-Assad (C-L) arrive at Al-Jalaa Stadium in Damascus on June 30, 2011 to meet with regime supporters who made the biggest Syrian flag as a deadly crackdown continued on democracy protests across the country. The Syrian president's office announced the couple have tested positive for COVID-19 on March 8, 2021. AFP via Getty Images