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Gaza Looks Pandemic in the Eye
Gaza City’s beachfront is deserted on Thursday, the third day of a complete coronavirus lockdown. (Mustafa Hassona/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Gaza Looks Pandemic in the Eye

Authorities extend complete curfew for three days in light of deteriorating situation

As the Gaza Strip on Thursday entered its third day of full lockdown in an effort to combat a new outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Tawfiq Abu Naim, head of the Palestinian enclave’s internal security forces, announced it would be extended by a further 72 hours.

Abu Naim added that the closure could be extended for even longer, depending on the situation.

The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip announced two deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, adding that the number of infections among people outside quarantine centers had risen to 24.

Experts warn of a humanitarian catastrophe in the blockaded area if the global pandemic takes root, given the paralyzed economy and crowded living conditions.

The great majority of people are sticking to the lockdown rules, with the main streets empty of vehicles and people.

The spokesperson of Gaza’s Interior Ministry declined to comment on the closure despite repeated inquiries from The Media Line.

Ashraf Alqedra, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told The Media Line on Thursday that the situation was under control. The ministry had expected the virus to arrive and spread, he said, but was doing its best to delay this for as long as possible.

“We have been trying to maximize our capabilities and readiness to face the virus and the current stage. As a consequence, we have a clear plan to deal with all potential scenarios,” Alqedra stated.

We have been trying to maximize our capabilities and readiness to face the virus and the current stage. As a consequence, we have a clear plan to deal with all potential scenarios

“The cases diagnosed thus far do not exceed the capacity of the ministry and the health sector, and our [pandemic] investigation committees continue testing and carrying out their work to indentify people who came in contact with infected citizens and identify the sources of infections,” he said, adding that the two people who died “were already in the hospital in the intensive care unit.”

Alqedra said the ministry was doing its best to continue providing medical services in addition to working to stop the spread of infections.

“We have very limited resources given the 14-year Israeli blockade of Gaza,” he explained. “We need everyone to come together and support the Health Ministry in terms of material and equipment.”

He added that the ministry could cope with a maximum of 2,000 COVID-19 patients.

Mazen Safi, a Gaza-based political analyst who works for the Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry, told The Media Line that the Gaza Strip was already experiencing political and economic crises.

“Now, with the arrival of the coronavirus, everyone is faced with big challenges,” he said.

Safi notes that the crisis has created new difficulties in terms of the provision of medical services.

“The danger here is that Gaza has an extremely high population density in comparison to other places, especially in the most crowded areas, and some extended families number 200 members, which makes it harder for the medical committees to operate,” he said.

The danger here is that Gaza has an extremely high population density in comparison to other places, especially in the most crowded areas, and some extended families number 200 members, which makes it harder for the medical committees to operate

He notes the area’s limited medical equipment, “not to mention the issue of whether it is suited to this kind of pandemic.”

Elias Jeldeh, a Palestinian social analyst and head of the Union Action Front, a worker’s union, told The Media Line that Gaza was incapable of dealing with something like the coronavirus pandemic.

“This crisis will have a huge impact on the Palestinian people in Gaza, where the unemployment rate is very high and the strip suffers from political unrest,” he said.

Jeldeh adds that ventilators and medical supplies are very limited, which does not bode well.

“Even if citizens have work, they have difficulty providing for their basic needs – which makes us wonder about the extent of their resilience,” he said. “Let’s not forget that more than 70% of the people here live under the poverty line.”

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