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Hamas to tighten Gaza virus restrictions amid surge in infections

Strip currently has 10,321 active cases, with around 32% of coronavirus tests coming back positive in the past 24 hours; authorities seek to avoid full lockdown

Hamas security officers stand guard on the main road of the Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, October 30, 2020. (Adel Hana/AP)
Hamas security officers stand guard on the main road of the Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, October 30, 2020. (Adel Hana/AP)

New COVID-19 restrictions will be imposed in the Gaza Strip as Hamas authorities seek to combat a wave of coronavirus infections in the Palestinian enclave without a return to total lockdown, the Hamas-run interior ministry announced on Thursday night.

Gaza has 10,321 active cases, and 827 were recorded over the past 24 hours. Around 32 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive over the same period.

Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said on Thursday night that authorities estimated that another 17,000 Gazans had been exposed to the virus.

“The reality is, we are in an extremely dangerous stage,” al-Qidra said.

Authorities shied away from implementing a full lockdown, instead opting for tightening restrictions.

“We considered imposing a full lockdown, but we decided against it, given the burdens it imposes,” interior ministry spokesperson Iyad al-Bozm said.

Mosques, schools, universities and nurseries in Gaza will all be closed beginning on Saturday, and a nightly curfew is being imposed starting at 6 p.m., also starting on Saturday.

Palestinian entrepreneur Heba al-Hindi demonstrates a locally designed and manufactured smart sterilization device in Gaza City, on October 8, 2020. The machine is to be deployed across various facilities in the Gaza Strip as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

On the following Friday and Saturday there will be a total lockdown across the Gaza Strip, al-Bozm said.

The Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Hamas terror group, managed to avoid a major coronavirus outbreak for nearly five months by containing new arrivals in the coastal enclave for 21 days in quarantine centers. But since mid-August, the virus has spread throughout the Strip.

Over the past three weeks, the situation has deteriorated dramatically, with hundreds of new infections announced every day. Between 20 and 30 percent of tests have consistently come back positive over the past three weeks, indicating that the virus is likely spreading widely undetected.

Around 88% of hospital beds with ventilators for coronavirus patients in critical condition are already occupied, the Gaza health ministry reported on Wednesday night. An additional 66% of the intensive care unit capacity is also full, according to senior World Health Organization official Gerald Rockenschaub.

Hamas health officials have warned that Gaza’s fragile health system — battered by a 13-year-blockade by Egypt and Israel as well as three wars between Israel and Hamas — cannot withstand much further strain. The terror group, which avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, has ruled the coastal enclave since 2007. Israel maintains the security blockade to prevent it from importing arms.

“If the trend continues like that, we may reach capacity in the coming weeks. It’s difficult to predict. We can act now to curb the pandemic and avoid hitting the ceiling, but there’s not too much time for decisive action,” Rockenschaub, the World Health Organization’s director in the Palestinian territories, told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

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