Health official warns COVID-19 ‘getting out of control’ in Gaza Strip

Number of confirmed cases in densely populated, Hamas-controlled enclave stands at 15,457, including 69 deaths

Palestinian children attend a kindergarten while wearing face shields due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Gaza City, on November 23, 2020. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)
Palestinian children attend a kindergarten while wearing face shields due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Gaza City, on November 23, 2020. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

The mounting number of coronavirus infections in densely populated Gaza is spinning out of control, Palestinian health officials warned Monday.

“The virus is spreading and the situation is getting out of control,” Dr. Ahmad al-Jadba, an official at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, told AFP.

The health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory of two million inhabitants declared a record 24-hour high of 890 new cases between Friday and Saturday. More than 30 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive in the same period, indicating that the virus could be spreading widely, undetected.

The cumulative number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic stood Monday at 15,457, including 69 deaths.

Palestinian children take part in a class while wearing masks and face shields due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at a kindergarten in Gaza city on November 23, 2020. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

“The number of intensive care beds is very limited, as are medicines,” said Mahmud Al-Khazindar, director of a private hospital in Gaza.

“If the number of cases increases, a choice will have to be made between the care of the elderly, the young and patients with another disease,” he warned.

Bassem Naim, a senior Hamas official, said the health ministry “expects the worst, if the epidemiological situation remains the same.”

Naim, a former health minister, cited “a health system at the end of its rope,” “severe drug shortages,” and “extreme overcrowding.”

Hamas Information Minister Salama Maarouf said that Hamas officials were discussing a return to total lockdown was being discussed.

“The decision to completely close Gaza is not being ruled out, and is among the specific measures which could confront the coronavirus,” Maarouf said in a statement.

Much of Gaza’s population lives in overcrowded refugee camps, with large families common, and the narrow coastal strip has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade for more than a decade. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas, an Islamist terror group avowedly committed to destroying Israel, from importing weaponry.

The coastal strip has only two entry and exit points, the Erez crossing to Israel and the Rafah crossing to Egypt.

As the virus began to spread globally, both crossings were almost completely closed, and Hamas imposed strict quarantine measures for the small numbers of people allowed in and out.

It has no airport or seaport.

A Palestinian kindergarten student takes part in a class while wearing a face shield due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Gaza City on November 23, 2020. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The flow of people through Erez has long been tightly controlled by Israel, which has fought three wars with Hamas since 2008 and says its crippling blockade is necessary to contain the terrorist group sworn to Israel’s destruction.

Numbers started climbing in August and Hamas imposed nightly curfews and a mandatory 5 p.m. closing time for businesses.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced on Monday that the West Bank would begin a similar curfew beginning next week. On Friday and Saturday, PA-administered areas would enter total lockdown, with a nightly curfew beginning for Sunday.

The curfew will last for 14 days, Shtayyeh said.

“These limited measures seek to break the chain of transmission and control the accelerating rate of infection,” Shtayyeh said in a statement opening Monday’s PA cabinet meeting.

After a few months during which the number of daily registered cases remained consistently between 400 and 500, West Bank Palestinians began seeing high numbers of cases over the past week.

West Bank Palestinians saw 869 new cases on Monday, with the largest outbreaks taking place in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus.

Palestinian health official Shadi al-Laham said in a statement that Bethlehem was seeing a rise in cases and a rise in positive tests at the same time.

“If 10 days ago, we were seeing 13% of tests [coming back positive], now we’re seeing 23 to 25%,” al-Laham said.

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