Hamas Orders Lockdown in Gaza as COVID Infections Spike

Security agencies say that they will enforce all regulations in Gaza, including prohibitions on gatherings and weddings, as well as any other mass events

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A Palestinian woman reacts while waiting for her husband at a hospital in Gaza, April 2021.
A Palestinian woman reacts while waiting for her husband at a hospital in Gaza, April 2021.Credit: MAHMUD HAMS - AFP

The Hamas government has declared a total lockdown in the Gaza Strip, starting Wednesday evening, due to the sharp rise in the number of new coronavirus infections.

Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bazem said that security forces would strictly enforce the lockdown and clamp down on any infringement. The lockdown is scheduled to begin at 9 P.M. Wednesday, ending at 6 A.M. on Friday of next week.

The lockdown will be total and only essential businesses will remain open, including pharmacies and bakeries, as well as stores selling food. All government services will be suspended, with a total closure of all educational institutions, from preschools to universities, until further notice.

Security agencies said that they would enforce all regulations, including prohibitions on gatherings and weddings, as well as any other mass events. Non-compliance will only intensify the risks for the entire population, al-Bazem said.

The latest report by the Gaza Strip’s Ministry of Health notes 1,916 new cases in the last 24 hours. This represented 38 percent of the people tested. There were six corona-caused deaths in that period.

Another figure causing concern is the large number of seriously ill patients, standing at 226, with 150 others requiring medical assistance in hospitals. According to the ministry, the total number of active cases in the Gaza Strip is currently 15,475, but it is estimated that the true number is higher, since many people (with symptoms) are not being tested.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health released videos documenting seriously ill and hospitalized patients struggling to cope with the effects of COVID-19 while attached to respirators. The videos show doctors with minimal protective measures performing resuscitation on one patient, while spokesmen and doctors warn viewers about non-compliance with the regulations, calling on people to get vaccinated. Ironically, even though the number of vaccines reaching the Gaza Strip is very limited, there is still no great rush to get vaccinated.

A Palestinian medic tends to a Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Gaza City, April, 2021.Credit: MAHMUD HAMS - AFP

The Health Ministry in Gaza says that up to this week, 81,600 doses had arrived, most of them a donation from the United Arab Emirates, as well as some from Russia. A few thousand doses came from the World Health Organization as part of its COVAX initiative. These doses are sufficient for 40,800 people, but until yesterday, only 27,615 people had received these doses. In recent days, the ministry has increased its calls for adults to come and get vaccinated.

Samir Zakut from the al-Mezan human rights group and a Gaza resident told Haaretz that the non-compliance with vaccination stems from concerns about side effects, but in recent days there seems to be some shift towards accepting the vaccine. Zakut said that the spike in cases was expected due to the arrival of the British variant and the non-adherence to regulations. “Anyone walking the streets senses that there is no adherence to the regulations, and this was expected, since the social and economic situation in Gaza was very difficult even before the epidemic.”

It should be noted that the imposing of a lockdown in the Gaza Strip was highly controversial, with a dispute between professionals at the Ministry of Health who demanded imposing one earlier and Hamas leaders who were in no rush to embrace the idea due to its economic ramifications in the absence of an economic safety net.

“One should remember that we’re in the Gaza Strip, not in Israel or another developed country that provides its citizens with a safety net or with compensation for closed businesses,” said a Hamas official in conversation with Haaretz. He added that merchants were suffering anyway, operating under barebone conditions, so that any closure would only adds to residents’ hardships.

The decision to impose a lockdown comes at a very sensitive stage since the month of Ramadan begins next week in the Arab and Islamic world, and it is unclear if the Hamas government will allow people to hold public prayer sessions as is customary during this month, or whether the outline employed last year will be in effect, with closed mosques and prayer houses. This led to almost complete management of the epidemic in the epidemic’s earliest months.

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