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On humanitarian drip, Gaza is alarmed by a Covid-19 outbreak

For a long time the Gaza Strip was spared. The Israeli blockade, which has isolated it from the world since 2006, had delayed the arrival of the Covid-19 epidemic, and the authorities had put in place a draconian quarantine system for any travelers returning to the Palestinian enclave. But nothing is perfectly waterproof. In August, the first cases were detected among its 2 million inhabitants and if, for a few months, the authorities managed to contain the epidemic, the counters are panicking in recent weeks. A third of the screening tests carried out are now positive, and the number of deaths linked to the coronavirus has doubled in three weeks, to reach more than 300 deaths, Sunday, December 27.

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After years of blockade, “The health system in Gaza is under pressure, resources are very limited”, worries Bassem Naïm, former Minister of Health, at the head of the international relations committee of Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules the enclave. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), units dedicated to Covid-19 are 80% occupied. “We cannot open other beds, because hospitals must continue to treat patients outside Covid-19”, Mr. Naïm continues.

The enclave sails on sight, attempting to meet the most pressing needs with international aid delivered in small quantities. “We lack everything: tests, protective equipment (PPE)… What we have received, via donations, of course, is only enough for a few days. Most of our medical staff do not have PPE which protects them effectively for work ”, explains the ex-minister of Hamas.

Partial containment

At the beginning of December, partial confinement was put in place: curfew from 6.30 p.m. and total closure on weekends (Friday and Saturday). But nothing helps, the epidemic is infiltrating everywhere in overcrowded camps and tiny apartments. “It’s complicated to enforce all the measures. Even when people are confined, families are large: generally forty to fifty people crammed into one house ”, describes Ziad Medoukh, head of the French department at Al-Aqsa University.

The option of re-containment “Is still on the table”, assures Bassem Naïm. But Gaza is not sure it can afford a total shutdown. Thousands of daily workers have already lost their livelihoods due to the various closures. Before the health crisis, some 80% of the inhabitants survived thanks to humanitarian aid; some could now find themselves selling it empty.

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