Hamas Shuts Gaza Borders, Imposes Holiday Restrictions as First Coronavirus Death Announced

77-year-old woman dies while in isolation at field hospital after returning via Egypt ■ Authorities restrict gatherings during Eid al-Fitr, which starts Sunday

Jack Khoury
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A Palestinian in Gaza City on May 22, 2020.
A Palestinian in Gaza City on May 22, 2020.Credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP
Jack Khoury

A 77-year-old woman in Gaza died of the coronavirus on Saturday, the enclave's first death from the pandemic, the Palestinian Health Ministry in the Strip announced.

The ministry said the woman suffered from chronic illnesses and had been in isolation in a special field hospital since returning to Gaza through Egypt. It added that authorities did not suspect she may have infected anyone else.

The death came after an escalation in Gaza's outbreak this week, with 25 people being diagnosed on Thursday – the highest one-day rise so far, bringing the number of active cases to 39. Authorities in the Strip have decided to close the Rafah and Erez border crossings, which allow heavily controlled passage into Egypt and Israel respectively, until June 30, saying that the newly diagnosed cases traveled through them.

Two thousand people have also been required to self-isolate because they may have been in contact with someone carrying the virus.

Palestinians walk past a mural in Gaza City on April 28, 2020.
Palestinians walk past a mural in Gaza City on April 28, 2020.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED / AFP

Gaza’s health care system is fraying under the weight of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, internal Palestinian division and repeated wars and skirmishes between Israel and Palestinian militant groups.

Home to two million people, the Gaza Strip has only a little over 60 ventilators and a chronic shortage of medication.

Since mid-March, Hamas, the group that rules Gaza, has enforced mandatory quarantine in hotels, clinics and schools for all residents returning via Israel and Egypt.

But on Friday, mosques were reopened for noon prayers across the Gaza Strip, with worshippers bringing their own prayer rugs, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and receiving hand sanitizer. Authorities say the partial reopening of the mosques after nearly two months of closure came after relative success at keeping the virus at bay and preventing an outbreak.

Schools and wedding halls remain closed, while Hamas’ interior ministry said public and amusement parks are not allowed to open during Eid al-Fitr, a major holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which starts Sunday. Gazans have also been told to avoid gatherings at beaches, restaurants, and coffee shops.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.