Gaza Struggles to Bring Coronavirus Infection Under Control Amid Warning of Community Spread

Despite an extended lockdown and restrictions in the Hamas-run enclave, infections are still rising in the Gaza Strip

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A health worker holds a collected swab sample in a test tube at a hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 31, 2020.
A health worker holds a collected swab sample in a test tube at a hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 31, 2020.Credit: AFP

The Gaza Health Ministry warned on Monday of coronavirus infection within the community in the Gaza Strip despite attempts in recent weeks to stop the spread of the virus.

Despite the decision to impose a general lockdown in the Gaza Strip in recent days, the authorities have still not been able to bring the virus under control. According to figures published by the Gaza Health ministry, 69 new cases were discovered over the past 24 hours and the number of active cases rose to 280, of which 243 were infections from within the community and 37 were infected people that came into Gaza through the crossings, and were placed in immediate isolation. The number of patients who have died of the coronavirus recently has risen to three, compared to the first wave of the crisis, when only one person died. All three patients died within one week, which sparking increased concern of an outbreak.

Women walk while wearing protective masks in Gaza city on August 30, 2020.Credit: AFP

The number of cases has risen significantly over the past week, with six new ones discovered in the Maghazi refugee camp. This discovery led to an increase in testing, and in 670 tests administered over the past 24 hours, 69 new cases.

Dr. Ashraf Alkudra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said at a press briefing on Monday evening that there is a major shortage of testing kits at Gaza hospitals. Alkudra said medical and emergency response personnel are working with very limited means to try to stop the spread of the disease and that the decision to maintain the lockdown, now in its sixth day, has been extended to the coming days.

Medical personnel in Gaza said they were very concerned over the loss of control over the disease, particularly among the severely ill who would require ventilators. There are only 90 available ventilators in Gaza, they said, of which 10 were donated by the World Health Organization.

Infections in the Gaza Strip are rising in the shadow of continued restrictions including the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel, which means that Gaza’s fuel supply has been curtailed, and the shutdown of Gaza power station. Human rights groups petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday to immediately cancel all restrictions that Israel has imposed on the entry of fuel and other merchandise into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main lifeline for the 2 million residents of the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian policeman speaks with a driver at a checkpoint in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 31, 2020.Credit: AFP

The petition, filed by the human rights groups Gisha, Adalah, Hamoked for the Defense of the Individual, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights, states that since August 13 Israel has blocked fuel from entering the Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing. As a result, the only power station in the Gaza Strip, which normally provides about one third of the electricity, has been shut down, in addition to the maritime blockade maintained by Israel. Affidavits attached to the petition show the depth of the crisis in the Strip. A pediatrician from Shifa Hospital warned that babies would die if an electricity outage shut down their ventilators, transfusion pumps and other vital equipment. A senior official in the water authority of towns on the coast said that the longer fuel is prevented from entering the Strip, the more water installations would shut down, including sewage pumps, which would lead to untreated sewage flowing to the sea and damage to the environment and public health.

“At this time especially when the coronavirus is spreading, when clear signs are present of the depending of the economic and humanitarian crisis, the fear is growing of further harm to the health care system and nutritional security of the inhabitants,” the petitioners wrote. “Despite the clear distress of the situation, Israel’s defense minister and the coordinator of government activities in the territories chose to take additional steps intended to directly harm the civilian population, while they are fully aware of the impact of their decisions on the inhabitants of Gaza,” they added.

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