The Gaza Strip and COVID-19: Preparing for the Worst

The coronavirus is now present in Gaza, the populous Palestinian enclave blockaded by air, land and sea since 2007. An epidemic would be calamitous. Hamas should tighten public health measures; Israel should loosen restrictions so that medical supplies can enter and afflicted Palestinians can leave.
A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS.
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  • Inter Press Service

What's new? COVID-19 cases have appeared in the Gaza Strip, where close to two million Palestinians live in 365 sq km, many of them in crowded refugee camps where social distancing is hardly feasible.

Why does it matter? A major outbreak of the illness would swiftly overwhelm Gaza's health care system, which has been devastated by years of war and Israeli blockade. The death toll could be horrific.

What should be done? The Hamas government should maintain its quarantine measures and step up other efforts to contain the virus's spread. Israel should lift the blockade for medical supplies and allow Palestinians out of the strip should they require hospitalisation.

COVID-19 has entered the Gaza Strip, one of the world's most densely populated territories. If efforts by the Hamas government fail to contain it, the virus could rampage through the Palestinian population of nearly two million, the majority of whom live in tightly packed refugee camps.

Gaza's health infrastructure – crippled by an Israeli blockade and further damaged in war – will be unable to cope with the worst-case scenario wherein tens of thousands of people require hospitalisation when there are only 2,500 beds available.

As long as containment remains possible, the Hamas government should strengthen its lockdown measures and build more quarantine facilities with the means available. Israel, for its part, should lift its blockade on Gaza to allow desperately needed medical equipment and supplies to get in. It should also prepare to help Palestinians in Gaza who contract the virus and require types of care unavailable in the impoverished strip.

As the occupying power in Gaza, Israel has a duty to care for the population under its control. In the case of COVID-19, it also has an interest, as the virus knows no borders. If only for these reasons, Israel should relax the blockade to let in hygiene kits, ventilators and other supplies, and suspend the requirement for transit permits for those who require hospitalisation outside of Gaza.

It should also support international efforts to erect field hospitals in and around the Gaza Strip, facilitate the entry of medical personnel willing to volunteer their services, and develop a plan for treating Palestinians from Gaza who need urgent medical attention in Israel.

A catastrophe of massive proportions could await Palestinians in Gaza who already have suffered far too much. Hamas, Israel and others need to take urgent steps to minimise the fallout.

This story was originally published by International Crisis Group, You can find the full report here.

© Inter Press Service (2020) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service