The Fight against COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip (Updated to April 12, 2020)

Drill of receiving and treating COVID-19 patients at the Gaza European Hospital (Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, April 6, 2020).

Drill of receiving and treating COVID-19 patients at the Gaza European Hospital (Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, April 6, 2020).

The Gaza European Hospital (Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, March 24, 2019).

The Gaza European Hospital (Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, March 24, 2019).

The Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital on the campus of the Islamic university (Facebook page of the Islamic University, March 26, 2020).

The Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital on the campus of the Islamic university (Facebook page of the Islamic University, March 26, 2020).

Police deployed on al-Rashid Street, near the sea, to enforce the ban on gatherings (website of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, April 7, 2020).

Police deployed on al-Rashid Street, near the sea, to enforce the ban on gatherings (website of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, April 7, 2020).

Overview
  • The following are the main developments in Hamas’ fight against the spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip:
  • On April 6, 2020, the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip announced the diagnosis of another COVID-19 patient in one of the quarantine centers, bringing the number of diagnosed cases to 13. Nine have already recovered and the others are not seriously ill. However, the figure does not necessarily reflect the real number of cases, due to the small number of tests performed and Hamas’ tradition of hiding problematic information.
  • Hamas’ ministry of health announced that they have completely run out of test materials and therefore no tests are being performed in the central laboratory in Gaza. Hamas is currently waiting for supplies to arrive from Jordan and the WHO, but that may take time because of the global shortage of test materials and logistic problems.
  • The ministry of health in Gaza has repeatedly appealed to international institutions and aid organizations for the drugs and medical equipment, including 100 ventilators and 40 ICU beds. As usual, the ministry of health blames Israel for the lack of means to fight the disease.
  • Hamas and its ministry of health are making preparations for a worst case scenario in which the virus will spread because of community infection in the Gaza Strip. To that end hospitals have been prepared to receive COVID-19 patients, mainly the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Yunis. In addition, the construction of 1,000 quarantine units has been completed in the northern and southern Gaza Strip. In addition, an advanced laboratory from China is supposed to arrive in the Gaza Strip which will be able to carry out a very large number of tests.
Shortage of Drugs and Medical Equipment
  • On April 8, 2020, Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip, announced that the central laboratory stopped carrying out tests because it had completely run out of testing materials.[1] He said they had taken dozens of samples which had not been tested. He added that the shortage of materials delayed the discharge of hundreds of civilians from quarantine centers. In addition, 44% of the supplies of vital drugs, 31% of disposable medical supplies and 65% of laboratory equipment had run out (al-Ra’i, April 8, 2020). Of disposable equipment, the worst shortage is of latex gloves. Promises have been made to supply between 100,000 and 200,000 latex gloves, but so far none have arrived (Palestine Online, April 8, 2020).
  • The spokesman for the ministry of health blamed the “Israeli occupation” for the shortage of the materials necessary to fight COVID-19 (al-Ra’i, April 11, 2020). He called on international institutions and aid organizations to take responsibility and provide the equipment needed by Gaza: vital drugs, disposable medical equipment, laboratory equipment, COVID-19 test kits, 100 ventilators and 140 ICU beds. Ashraf al-Qidra stressed that the ministry of health could not cope with the COVID-19 pandemic by itself because its capabilities were limited (al-Ra’i, April 8, 2020).
  • Following the statements from Dr. al-Qidra, Dr. Abd al-Nasser Sabah, director of the WHO regional office in Gaza, said the shortage of test materials in Gaza meant the Gazan ministry of health would have to send the test samples to Ramallah or Israel until the necessary materials arrived in Gaza. That, he said, could take a great deal of time because of global shortages and logistic problems. He said the WHO had purchased testing materials for Gaza in Jordan. He added that after the closing of the [Allenby] bridge and the crossings, and the procedures for clearing customs, a number of days might pass before the materials reached Gaza (Palestine Online, April 10, 2018).
  • On another occasion Dr. Sabah said the WHO had purchased a quantity of COVID-19 testing materials from Jordan, sufficient for one thousand people. He said he was working to get them transferred to the West Bank and Gaza this week as a response to the urgent need until materials sufficient to test 19,000 people arrive from Geneva, to also be shared between the West Bank and Gaza Strip (al-Andalou News, April 9, 2020).
Discharge of Civilians from Quarantine Centers
  • On April 5, 2020, Dr. Al-Qidra announced the discharge of civilians who had returned to the Gaza Strip and been forced to stay in quarantine centers. He said 242 civilians had returned to Gaza and were accompanied by 79 security, medical and service personnel [who were also infected with COVID-19]. On April 5, 2020, they completed the quarantine period and were sent home. They were told to stay at home for the first week and to self-isolate. The quarantine centers from which they were discharged will be disinfected and closed until needed (al-Ra’i, April 5, 2020).
Civilians leave the quarantine centers and head home (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, April 5, 2020).     Civilians leave the quarantine centers and head home (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, April 5, 2020).
Civilians leave the quarantine centers and head home
(Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, April 5, 2020).
Preparing for the scenario of community infections of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip
  • The ministry of health and Hamas are making preparations for community infections of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip. To that end the ministry of health has begun preparing the Gaza European Hospital in Khan Yunis as the main COVID-19 hospital for all patients with the disease regardless of the degree of severity. The hospital has 400 beds, 100 of them ICU beds. The hospital is currently waiting for financial support from donors and the WHO to be able to fully equip itself (the hospital now has only 12 beds with ventilators). Routine medical services will be moved to nearby hospitals (Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, April 8, 2020).

The Gaza European Hospital (Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, March 24, 2019).
The Gaza European Hospital
(Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, March 24, 2019).

Drill of receiving and treating COVID-19 patients at the Gaza European Hospital (Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, April 6, 2020).     Drill of receiving and treating COVID-19 patients at the Gaza European Hospital (Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, April 6, 2020).
Drill of receiving and treating COVID-19 patients at the Gaza European Hospital
(Facebook page of the Gaza European Hospital, April 6, 2020).
  • The al-Carmel School in Gaza City, which is near the al-Shifaa Hospital, will serve as a quarantine center. A school near the Nasser Medical Center in Khan Yunis will also serve as a quarantine center.
  • The Islamic University in Gaza City has begun transferring the buildings of the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital to the ministry of health. That is to enable the hospital to be used as a quarantine center to treat elderly and sick patients during the state of emergency (website of the Islamic University in Gaza City, April 8, 2020). The hospital was erected on the grounds of the university campus with a donation from the Turkish government after the university had appealed to Erdogan. The hospital has a number of buildings with about 200 beds, and is equipped with advanced equipment, including operating rooms and ICUs (Facebook page of the Islamic University, March 26, 2020).
The Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital on the campus of the Islamic university (Facebook page of the Islamic University, March 26, 2020).     The Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital on the campus of the Islamic university (Facebook page of the Islamic University, March 26, 2020).
The Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital on the campus of the Islamic university
(Facebook page of the Islamic University, March 26, 2020).
Construction of 1000 quarantine units completed
  • Hamas completed (within two weeks) the construction of 1,000 quarantine units, 500 near the Rafah Crossing in the southern Gaza Strip and 500 near the Beit Hanoun [Erez] Crossing in the northern Gaza Strip. Senior Hamas figure Rawhi Mushtaha transferred the units to General Tawfiq Abu Na’im, the deputy minister of the interior (Hamas website, April 11, 2020). Reportedly, on April 12, 2020, 500 units will be ready to receive Palestinians stuck on the Egyptian side of the Rafah Crossing (Shehab, April 11, 2020).
The quarantine center near the Rafah Crossing (aljazeera.net, April 9, 2020).     The quarantine center near the Rafah Crossing (aljazeera.net, April 9, 2020).
The quarantine center near the Rafah Crossing
(aljazeera.net, April 9, 2020).
Putting the finishing touches on the 500 quarantine units in the northern Gaza Strip (Facebook page of photographers Anas al-Sharif, April 5, 2020).    Putting the finishing touches on the 500 quarantine units in the northern Gaza Strip (Facebook page of photographers Anas al-Sharif, April 5, 2020).
Putting the finishing touches on the 500 quarantine units in the northern Gaza Strip
(Facebook page of photographers Anas al-Sharif, April 5, 2020).
  • The quarantine units will be used to isolate patients and for civilians returning to Gaza from the Rafah Crossing and the Beit Hanoun [Erez] Crossing. The units are completely isolated from their surroundings, and every thirty-room unit is itself isolated. The units are equipped with electricity, running water and an Internet connection. An area was also allotted for a small garden. Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for the ministry of the interior, when asked why there was such a large number of units, answered that the ministry of the interior did not think 1,000 was a large number because the pandemic might continue for a long time. He added that “the ministry of the interior, along with other relevant ministries, is formulating a program to find alternatives in case things develop” (aljazeera.net, April 9, 2020).
Advanced laboratory for COVID-19 testing expected to arrive
  • Dr. Yusuf Abu al-Rish said that on April 6, 2020, an advanced laboratory, donated by China, was supposed to arrive in the Gaza Strip, capable of performing a large number of tests. The area of the laboratory is 300 square meters (website of the ministry of health in Gaza, April 7, 2020; Palinfo, April 6, 2020).
Additional Hamas Administration Preventive Measures
  • The following are additional measures taken by the Hamas administration to fight COVID-19:
  • On April 6, 2020, the ministry of Islamic endowments, after meeting with the Islamic sages and muftis in Gaza, announced it had decided to extend the ban on public prayers and the Friday prayers in mosques for two more weeks. The ministry called on Gazans to pray at home (website of the ministry of Islamic endowments in Gaza, April 6, 2020).

The meeting of the ministry of Islamic endowments (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, April 6, 2020).
The meeting of the ministry of Islamic endowments
(Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, April 6, 2020).

  • Salameh Ma’aruf, chairman of the government information bureau, announced the end of registration of the tens of thousands of people who had suffered damaged from the COVID-19 crisis. He added that examinations were being carried out so that payments could be made to them as quickly as possible (al-Ra’i news agency, April 9, 2020).
  • Salameh Ma’aruf added that a million dollars had been allotted as urgent aid for agricultural workers (al-Ra’i, April 9, 2020). On April 12, 2020, the ministry of agriculture in Gaza announced that that aid would be distributed in stages to chicken farmers and vegetable farmers (Facebook page of the ministry of agriculture in the Gaza Strip, April 12, 2020).
  • On April 9, 2020, the payment of one million shekels (about $280,000) began, donations collected from workers in the public sector of the Hamas administration for poor and needy families. The aid, 200 shekels (about $55), was given to poor families not receiving support from any other source. The total amount of the donations was 5,345,000 shekels (about $1.5 million) for 22,000 families (Palestine Online, April 10, 2020).
Enforcing the measures taken to fight COVID-19
  • General Tawfiq Abu Na’im, deputy minister of the interior in the Gaza Strip, warned of complacency. He said the situation was still grave: the number of cases of COVID-19 around the globe is rising, and the feeling of complacency among Gazan civilians is dangerous. He also said he was worried by the low level of implementation of the procedures for guarding against community infection in the Gaza Strip. He added that “we have an indication about the degree of implementation among civilians. We are not pleased by [the implementation of the procedures]. We warned against gathering in the markets, at celebrations and in mourning tents.” He added that the number of operatives in the department of investigation and oversight of markets and prices had been doubled. The implementation of the ban on public gatherings is being monitored daily, based on the decision that the weekly markets, reception halls and mosques should remain closed.
  • Abu Na’im added that more than 20,000 operatives of the security forces and employees of the ministry of the interior are working in the central emergency program to fight COVID-19. They are supported by a thousand police cadets. He said the ministry of the interior was making preparations for a scenario of community infections of COVID-19 in Gaza, and if necessary all measures will be taken against the spread of virus, including a lockdown. He added that there were programs in place for such an exigency, which he hoped would not be necessary. He also said it had been decided to manufacture face masks in workshops of the ministry of the interior and other workshops, and in the coming days they will be distributed to all Gazans (Shehab, April 11, 2020).
Police deployed on al-Rashid Street, near the sea, to enforce the ban on gatherings (website of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, April 7, 2020).     Police deployed on al-Rashid Street, near the sea, to enforce the ban on gatherings (website of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, April 7, 2020).
Police deployed on al-Rashid Street, near the sea, to enforce the ban on gatherings
(website of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, April 7, 2020).
Criticism of the Palestinian Authority (PA) for Not Transferring Financial Donations to Hamas
  • Hamas criticized the PA for transferring to it only a tiny fraction of the financial donations received to fight COVID-19. Hamas claimed that of the $133 million received by the PA, only $4,000 were transferred to the Gaza Strip.

Infographic of the donations received to fight COVID-19 transferred, according to Hamas, to the PA ($133 million). Of that sum, only a tiny fraction ($4,000) was transferred to Gaza (Palinfo Twitter account, April 12, 2020).
Infographic of the donations received to fight COVID-19 transferred, according to Hamas, to the PA ($133 million). Of that sum, only a tiny fraction ($4,000) was transferred to Gaza (Palinfo Twitter account, April 12, 2020).

[1] As of April 10, 2020, 2,068 COVID-19 tests had been performed (website of the ministry of health in Gaza, April 7-10, 2020).