2 more virus cases confirmed in Gaza, bringing total to 12

Hamas-run health ministry says the 2 recently returned from Egypt, are in stable condition; UNRWA begins delivering food to homes to prevent crowding at distribution centers

Palestinian workers for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees sit in the back of a truck delivering food aid in Gaza City on March 31, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinian workers for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees sit in the back of a truck delivering food aid in Gaza City on March 31, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Two more people in the Gaza Strip were confirmed Tuesday to have the novel coronavirus, bringing the number of cases in the Palestinian enclave to 12.

Their condition was “stable and reassuring,” the Hamas-run health ministry said.

Both were in quarantine after having returned recently from Egypt, according to the ministry.

Also Tuesday, a UN aid agency began delivering food to the homes of impoverished Palestinians instead of making them pick up such parcels at crowded distribution centers — part of an attempt to prevent a mass outbreak of the new coronavirus in the densely populated Strip.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees has for decades provided staples like flour, rice, oil and canned foods to roughly half of the territory’s 2 million people. Under the old system, those eligible lined up at crowded distribution centers four times a year to pick up their aid parcels. Starting on Tuesday, the agency began making home deliveries.

“We assessed that tens of thousands of people will pour into the food distribution centers and this is very dangerous,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, the agency’s spokesman in Gaza.

Palestinian workers with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees deliver food aid to the doorstep of a refugee family home in Gaza City on March 31, 2020. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Some 4,000 deliveries were made Tuesday, with an estimated 70,000 others to be made over the next three weeks, he said. Drivers on three-wheel motorcycles dropped off the food, calling people out of their homes, confirming their identities and leaving the bags outside. The agency instructed people to stay 2 meters (about 6 feet) from the delivery men to minimize the risk of infection.

The virus has found a way into Gaza, even though the Mediterranean enclave has been largely cut off from the world by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the Hamas terror group seized control of it from the Palestinian Authority 13 years ago. Israel says the blockade is in place to prevent Hamas importing weapons and other military supplies.

The terrifying possibility of an outbreak in one of the world’s most crowded territories — 2 million people squeezed into an area twice the size of Washington, DC — does not seem to have registered fully. Many in Gaza seem to accept Hamas assurances that the threat is contained.

Although movement in and out of Gaza has been heavily restricted since 2007, it is not cut off altogether. The first two virus cases were men who had returned from a religious conference in Pakistan, part of a wave of hundreds of returnees who were placed into quarantine.

Hamas has sought to beef up its quarantine efforts in recent days, opening 18 additional facilities in clinics and hotels and declaring them off-limits. It also has banned weekly street markets and shut down wedding halls, cafes and mosques and extended quarantine periods by a week.

Members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, spray disinfectant in the streets of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 26, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)

There’s only a small number of available tests in Gaza. International officials fear the virus could quickly spread and overwhelm an already gutted health system.

COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian issues, said it has coordinated the delivery of hundreds of coronavirus testing kits by the World Health Organization, as well as protective equipment, medicine and disinfectant.

Israel, along with most Western nations, considers Hamas a terrorist group. But it likely fears the fallout from a catastrophic outbreak would spill over the frontier.

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