Amid coronavirus pandemic, Gaza medics trained by Israeli teams — report

Medical staff from enclave attend workshops at Erez Crossing and Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center; conference calls held between medics on both sides of border

Palestinian workers making hand sanitizer at a factory in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 16, 2020 (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)
Illustrative: Palestinian workers making hand sanitizer at a factory in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 16, 2020 (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Dozens of doctors, nurses and medical personnel in Gaza have been trained by Israeli teams in techniques to treat patients infected with the coronavirus, the Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday.

A training session was conducted for several hours for around 20 medical staff from Gaza at the Erez Border Crossing by a team from the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan. In addition, a group was allowed to leave Gaza for training at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and medical staff from both sides have held conference calls together, according to the report.

The initiative was held under the auspices of Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Defense Ministry’s liaison with the Palestinians, the broadcaster reported. There was no mention when the sessions took place.

Last week, Hamas-run security forces arrested several peace activists in Gaza on treason charges after they took part in a web conference with Israeli activists. The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said the activists were accused of “holding a normalization activity with the Israeli occupation.” The activists held a nearly two-hour meeting on Monday over Zoom, an online conferencing service, discussing issues of common interest, including the coronavirus pandemic.

Health authorities in Gaza have reportedly decided to adopt an Israeli recommendation that the quarantine period for those infected be extended from the current two weeks to three weeks, due to a lack of medical facilities and testing equipment in the enclave.

Palestinian workers construct a quarantine complex to be used for coronavirus cases, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

There is concern that an outbreak could quickly spread and overwhelm an already precarious health system in Gaza.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says 12 people have been infected with the virus, including six who have recovered. It has said that all of those who carry or have carried the virus have been held in quarantine and haven’t mixed with the wider population.

In mid-March, Abdelnasser Soboh, the head of the World Health Organization’s sub-office in Gaza, said that the coastal enclave’s public health infrastructure would not be able to handle hundreds or thousands of cases.

“The health system in Gaza is already shaky and barely functioning. It cannot take on the burden of a large number of cases,” he told The Times of Israel, warning that such a scenario could contribute to its collapse.

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)

Hospitals in Gaza frequently lack sufficient medications and medical equipment and often rely on backup generators to maintain a consistent flow of power.

Israel’s blockade on Gaza, which has been aided by Egypt, has significantly undermined the territory’s health sector.

Israeli officials maintain that the blockade, a series of restrictions on the movement of goods and people, is in place to prevent Hamas and other terror groups from importing weapons, or the means to make them, into Gaza.

Earlier this month, Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of WHO’s mission to the Palestinians, said there were only 87 ventilators in Gaza, while noting up to 80 percent of them were already in use. Patients around the world with serious cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, have required ventilators to stay alive.

The Palestinian Authority on Friday announced the second death from the coronavirus in the West Bank and three more confirmed cases, bringing the total number there and in the Gaza Strip to 266.

The PA and Hamas-dominated authorities have taken significant measures to prevent the spread of the disease in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively.

The PA has drastically restricted freedom of movement in the West Bank, permitting people to leave their homes under a handful of circumstances such as going to the supermarket, health institutions, among other places.

Hamas-run authorities have barred travel into and out of Gaza for the vast majority of people, shuttered mosques, restaurants, event halls and other locations.

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