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Gaza Enters 3rd Wave of Pandemic as New School Year Goes Ahead
A teacher talks to her students about the importance of hand-washing with hand sanitizer on the first day of the new school year in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 16, 2021. (Hassan Eslieh/The Media Line)

Gaza Enters 3rd Wave of Pandemic as New School Year Goes Ahead

Inoculation of 70% of eligible population necessary to avoid lockdowns, health expert says

[Gaza City] Following a dramatic rise in infections, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza announced on Sunday that the Strip is experienced a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are 9,105 active cases of the novel coronavirus in the Gaza Strip, the ministry reported.

The highly contagious delta strain poses a real threat to the densely populated coastal enclave.

If we manage to vaccinate 70% of the total [eligible] population in the Gaza Strip, we will reach herd immunity without anti-virus restrictions including lockdowns

“Each person carrying the delta variant can transmit it to at least eight other people,” Dr. Mohammad Abu Rayya, an epidemiologist and health consultant, told The Media Line. “You can imagine how fast it can spread in a short period of time. In addition, it has the ability to send more people to hospitals, thus increasing the death toll.”

This has put great pressure on Gaza’s Health Ministry to encourage people to head to vaccination centers, he said.

“If we manage to vaccinate 70% of the total [eligible] population in the Gaza Strip, we will reach herd immunity without anti-virus restrictions including lockdowns,” Abu Rayya said.

But as of Thursday, only 12.2% of eligible Gaza residents (and 36.7% of eligible West Bank residents) had been vaccinated, Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said.

The Health Ministry in Gaza, which has launched several campaigns to urge people to accept inoculation, said on Friday it will open and equip six vaccination tents in different areas of Gaza City and two more vaccination centers in the southern governorate of Khan Younis.

More than 42,000 Gazans received inoculations against the coronavirus over the past four days, raising the total number of people vaccinated to 181,271, health officials said.

Unfortunately, the arrival of the delta variant to Gaza coincided with the August 16 opening of the school year in the Palestinian territories.

The ministry conducted field inspections at all schools and took strict measures to ensure a safe environment for students. Moreover, we’ve contracted with special companies to clean and sterilize all school facilities with a high level of expertise and compliance with safety protocols

Ahmad al-Najjar, director of public relations for Gaza’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education, told The Media Line that even before the school year began, “the ministry conducted field inspections at all schools and took strict measures to ensure a safe environment for students.

“Moreover,” he continued, “we’ve contracted with special companies to clean and sterilize all school facilities with a high level of expertise and compliance with safety protocols.”

The anti-virus measures include compulsory vaccination of teaching staff.

Abdul Karim al-Majdalawi, head of the ministry’s School Health Department, said on Thursday that “the ministry has launched a vaccination campaign for teaching staff in all schools to provide a safe environment.

“Soon we will start vaccinating students from the 10th to the 12th grades, which is an important age group, estimated at 100,000 students,” he said.

However, the chances of setbacks and reaching critical infection levels during the school year remain high. That is why the Education Ministry has set out three different teaching methods to be used, based on the epidemiological situation.

Najjar explained: “First there is regular learning, with students attending school six days a week. We recognize that this is the best and most effective method, but if things get bad, we will have to move to other alternatives, which are integrated learning (a mixture of regular and distance learning), and a fully online learning system through virtual classrooms, which is the least preferable.”

Online learning has particular disadvantages for students living in the Gaza Strip, he said.

“We still suffer from power cuts for many hours a day, which directly and negatively affects the distance educational process,” he continued.

“And in addition, the Israeli siege, which has been going on for nearly 15 years, prevents the entry of sufficient quantities of materials and equipment necessary for the distance learning process, such as laptops and phones, which raises their price in the market and thus increases the burden on the students’ families,” Najjar said.

Last year was literally exhausting with the online classrooms. I sometimes had to attend classes with my three girls at the exact same time via three different mobile phones. I might have three devices at home but many other students don’t have that luxury

Asmaa al-Shawwa, a mother of three primary school girls, told The Media Line: “Last year was literally exhausting with the online classrooms. I sometimes had to attend classes with my three girls at the exact same time via three different mobile phones. I might have three devices at home but many other students don’t have that luxury. I hope we don’t have to use online learning this year.”

To avoid that, Abu Rayya stressed the need to observe social distancing and safety measures, “especially within schools, whose commitment to applying special protocols must be monitored.

“I recommend that completion of transactions with government offices be conditioned on first receiving the vaccination. Compulsory rather than voluntary inoculation is the only way we can move forward,” Abu Rayya said.

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