With Coronavirus in Check, Gaza Worries About Economic Fallout

The economy is at a standstill, and residents now have to think about putting food on the table after major outbreak apparently averted

Jack Khoury
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Palestinians gather to get soup offered for free during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Gaza City April 26, 2020.
Palestinians gather to get soup offered for free during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Gaza City April 26, 2020.Credit: SUHAIB SALEM/ REUTERS
Jack Khoury

The number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip is shrinking, and the economic implications of the crisis is now worrying Gazans more than the virus.

Twenty people in Gaza have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including three who were diagnosed on Wednesday. Twelve of them have already recovered, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, and all remaining patients are in medical isolation and in good condition. So far, 6,444 coronavirus tests have been conducted in the Gaza Strip and 1,068 people are still in isolation.

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For the Health Ministry, the decision to put all Palestinians who returned to Gaza into isolation in centers prepared in advance proved to be the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease and support Gaza’s ailing health care system. “From the beginning we knew that in case of an outbreak, the medical system would collapse, so the method of immediate isolation for everyone who entered the Gaza Strip was the best,” a Palestinian social services official in Gaza told Haaretz.

At the same time, Hamas officials deny claims that the number of those infected was imprecise and may be higher. “We have no interest in hiding anything,” a senior Hamas public relations official in Gaza told Haaretz. Hamas “presents accurate facts for two reasons: It is very important for the international organizations and especially the World Health Organization, which monitors and is aware of the details; and secondly, in Gaza there is no such thing as hiding patients. With the crowding in Gaza, everything comes out, and if there is a high rate of infection it will be felt,” the official said.

In spite of the talks between Israel and Hamas over providing medical aid to Gaza  during the coronavirus crisis, early Wednesday morning – for the first time since March 27 – a rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel. In response, Israeli tanks fired at three Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip, the military said.

In spite of the low number of people diagnosed with COVID-19, authorities in Gaza are continuing to restrict the public’s movements. The mosques are still closed and mass prayer services have been banned. Mayors in the Gaza Strip have allowed restaurants and cafes to reopen as long as they carefully follow social distancing and hygiene regulations. Shopping centers are also open, but they have drawn relatively little traffic.

A Palestinian teacher wearing a mask and gloves gives an exam seating card information to a high school student, in a school in the southern Gaza Strip, May 3, 2020.
A Palestinian teacher wearing a mask and gloves gives an exam seating card information to a high school student, in a school in the southern Gaza Strip, May 3, 2020.Credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

“We need to remember that Gaza is already suffering from a very harsh economic crisis and the coronavirus has only made it worse,” said a social activist in Gaza. Goods are still entering the coastal enclave and there is no shortage of food, but residents cannot necessarily buy what they need, he added.

Ahmed, a Palestinian in his 20s who works in tourism, said: “It’s ironic, but there were people in the Gaza Strip itself who went to guest houses and hotels as a form of shelter, and these places too were closed in the past two and a half months. 5,000 workers from hotels and guest houses became unemployed.”

Even worse, says Ahmed, is “many companies stopped working because of the halt in business in Israel and West Bank, and this only added to the difficulties.”

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