search

Gaza children back at school with few virus safety measures

Students in isolated enclave, which hasn’t had a major COVID-19 outbreak, not required to wear masks or distance as they return to classroom

Students sit in a classroom on the first day of the new school year at the United Nations-run Elementary School at the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, August 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Students sit in a classroom on the first day of the new school year at the United Nations-run Elementary School at the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, August 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hundreds of thousands of students in the isolated Gaza Strip returned to schools after five months of closure, despite the ongoing pandemic that has seen school years postponed elsewhere across the globe.

The rare scene of normalcy in the Palestinian enclave came as the territory has so far been spared a serious outbreak of the coronavirus. There have been no known cases of community transmission among the 2 million residents of Gaza, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the Hamas terror group took power in 2007. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas, which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, smuggling in arms to attack the Jewish state.

For Gaza’s limited health care system, Hamas authorities have sought strict precautions to prevent an outbreak, largely shutting Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt where infections have spiked and imposing mandatory quarantine at designated facilities for all arrivals.

Seventy-eight people have tested positive for COVID-19 and a woman with underlying health issues died, all at the isolation centers. From the outset, the blockade has restricted movement in and out of Gaza mostly to its residents with humanitarian causes and workers of international aid groups.

Students wave balloons on the first day of the new school year at the United Nations-run Elementary School at the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, August 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

With the virus at bay, 285,000 students at UN-run schools and some 277,000 pupils at public schools were headed back to school this week. They were not required to wear masks or keep distancing, but teachers at UN Relief and Works Agency schools poured sanitizers on students’ hands.

“The UNRWA did everything possible to secure [a] smooth beginning of this school year by several measures to prepare, clean, disinfect schools and training workers on daily disinfection,” said Farid Abu Athra, director of the agency’s education program.

For August, students will resume classes they missed from the past year, with class sessions curtailed to four per day, recess canceled, and school canteens closed. Authorities are studying a full-fledged back-to-school start in September.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more:
comments