Gaza Coronavirus Cases Surge but Authorities Fear Lockdown Could Mean Mass Hunger

Gaza medical authorities have ramped up pressure on Hamas to impose a lockdown for three weeks to curb the spread of coronavirus. Sources say Gaza leaders aren’t hastening to make a decision for economic reasons

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Palestinians mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic make tea by a fire in the  Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, November 16, 2020.
Palestinians mask-clad due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic make tea by a fire in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, November 16, 2020.Credit: MOHAMMED ABED - AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Gaza Strip has suffered a record number of daily new coronavirus cases, with the coastal enclave's Health Ministry saying Saturday there had been 891 new cases over the past day.

Haaretz podcast: Will Trump's purged Pentagon let Israel attack Iran?Credit: Haaretz

The number of cases has risen to 5,036, with 332 in the hospital and 78 in serious condition, and deaths rising to 62, most of them in the past two months.

The ministry does not publish figures on how many patients are on ventilators, but according to unofficial estimates, between 40 percent and 50 percent of ventilators are being used.

“We’re reaching a critical situation and there’s no doubt that the Strip will need some outside intervention on the medical and humanitarian front,” a member of the health system in Gaza told Haaretz.

A Palestinian man with his children wearing protective face masks rides his motorcycle by police officers in Gaza September 22, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

The source said that the professionals and politicians disagreed on key issues, while the authorities were late in imposing a lockdown. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Gaza residents were living on earnings of a few dozen shekels a day, so a lockdown would mean widespread hunger.

“Imagine that a father of seven or eight children can’t even afford masks for his children, and masks cost a shekel apiece,” he said.

The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza reported that thousands of day workers in Gaza had lost their jobs in recent months due to the worsening economy, and that 80 percent of families receive aid so they can feed their children.

Palestinian medics checks a person's temperature to screen for coronavirus symptoms, at the entrance of the UNRWA Rimal Health Center in Gaza City, November 9, 2020.Credit: Khalil Hamra,AP

Gaza security officials are trying to impose restrictions to prevent gatherings, especially in the evenings. They also seek to ensure that people wear masks at large commercial centers, but during the day most Gazans are not wearing masks.

The number of coronavirus cases has also been on the rise in the West Bank. The Health Ministry in Ramallah reported 595 cases and 10 fatalities on Friday and Saturday. The Heath Ministry said 51 people were in intensive care, with nine of them of ventilators.

After a surge in cases in Bethlehem, the head of the city’s health directorate, Dr. Shadi Al-Lahham, called for a cancellation of Christmas ceremonies. He said worshippers should keep their prayer groups to small numbers.

Lahham said the entire emergency medical system at hospitals in his district was full, and a rise in the number of seriously ill was expected.

The West Bank is still officially on an emergency footing but enforcement of lockdowns has been lax compared to the first lockdown in the spring, when case numbers were lower.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said the cabinet was monitoring the situation and would make decisions regarding lockdowns or other restrictions as necessary.

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