Meeting of the national COVID-19 council (Facebook page of the ministry of health in Gaza, May 11, 2020).
Crowded streets at night during Ramadan (al-Araby al-Jadeed, May 12, 2020)
Gazans eat their fast-breaking meal on the beach (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2020).
A drill to examine preparedness conducted by the ministry of health (Facebook page of the ministry of health in Gaza, May 11, 2020).
Aid for the Gaza Strip arriving from Turkey (al-Andalou News YouTube channel, May 14, 2020).
- There has been no change in the reported number of COVID-19 patients in the Gaza Strip and it still stands at twenty. Two patients recovered last week and the reported number of recoveries is now 16. Ten were discharged to their homes and six remain in the quarantine centers. Four Gazans are still sick and are being treated in the hospital at the Rafah Crossing.
- Although that the number of patients is low and stable, the heads of the public health system in the Gaza Strip continue to warn the local population of a coronavirus outbreak. They state that the preventive measures in place are an attempt to gain time to increase the public health system’s preparedness for an uncontrolled spread of the virus.
- Despite the warnings, many Gazans, including senior Hamas figures, continue not practicing public health guidelines and taking preventive measures. Pictures from Gaza and media reports show crowded streets and beaches during Ramadan, and markets full of shoppers. People do not always wear face masks.
- Senior figures in Gaza’s ministry of health continue to complain that medical equipment has still not arrived from the Palestinian Authority (PA). They say there is a severe shortage of drugs, disposable medical equipment and laboratory equipment. The ministry of health has called on the relevant agencies for an urgent response and for the medical necessities to be met. However, the spokesman for the ministry of health, as usual, blames Israel for the lack of proper medical and humanitarian infrastructures, claiming the [so-called] Israeli “siege” poses a constant threat to the lives of the Gazans.
- In view of the above concerns, significant steps to relax restrictions have not yet been implemented, although according to reports, the schools are supposed to reopen in August 2020. In the meantime, the mosques remain closed.
The Extent of the Infection
There has been no change in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Gaza Strip, and it still stands at twenty. On May 16, 2020, the recovery of two Gazans was reported, bringing their number to 16. Ten Gazans who had recovered were sent home, and six remain in the quarantine centers, while four active cases are being treated in the hospital at the Rafah Crossing.
- So far 7,385 people were tested for coronavirus in the Gaza Strip. There are 16 quarantine centers active in Gaza housing 1,574 people, of whom 1,168 entered the Gaza Strip through the Rafah Crossing between May 12 and 14. Of those in quarantine, 11.1% have underlying health conditions (Safa, al-Ra’i, the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip, May 16, 2020).
Measures taken at the Rafah Crossing for arriving Palestinians before their transfer to quarantine centers (Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in Gaza, May 12, 2020).
Ongoing Concern Over an Outbreak of COVID-19 Inside the Gaza Strip
Despite the low number of cases and the fact that the spread of the disease is under control, the heads of the public health system in Gaza continue to warn the public of the danger of an outbreak of COVID-19 inside the Strip. In ITIC assessment that is because they are aware of the great potential risk of an uncontrolled outbreak inside the Gaza Strip, given the crowding, lack of following public health guidelines and the public health system’s poor capabilities.
- The heads of the public health system have said that so far all the preventive measures have been taken mainly to gain time and increase the preparedness of the medical systems in Gaza:
- At a meeting of the national COVID-19 council, Yusuf Abu Rish, deputy minister of health, said the Gaza Strip was still at the stage of trying to gain time to increase the preparedness of the public health system. He said complacency was forbidden and all guidelines related to preventive measures had to be followed (al-Ra’i news agency, May 12, 2020).
- Visiting the Shifaa Medical Center, Yusuf Abu Rish said the ministry of health had made considerable progress in increasing preparedness for coping with coronavirus. However, he said, the Gaza Strip, like the rest of the world, was not immune to the dangers. That meant, he said, intensifying preventive measures, the population at large had to be careful and everyone had to raise their level of preparedness (al-Ra’i news agency, May 15, 2020).
- Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health in Gaza, warned against complacency in following guidelines. He said the curve of the pandemic continued to rise around the world and near the Gaza Strip, and therefore preventive measures and safety guidelines had to be followed. He added that the ministry of health regretted the complacency and contempt shown in Gaza Strip for the preventive measures, and called on the Gazans to change their ways (al-Ra’i news agency, May 12, 2020).
- Dr. Abd al-Nasser Sabah, director of the WHO regional office in Gaza, again noted that the virus would without a doubt enter the Gaza Strip. He added that Gaza could not continue its lockdown forever, and said that no preventive measures were 100% [secure]. He added that eventually there would be a return to routine life, the system would not be closed and then there would be people who entered or left Gaza. He said he hoped that when the virus did enter Gaza, they would be completely prepared for it and the European Gaza Hospital would be ready and waiting (Wataniya news agency, May 10, 2020).
Disregard for preventive measures
- Despite warnings from the heads of the public health system, Gazans continue to ignore the guidelines. Reportedly, at night during Ramadan the atmosphere seems no different from previous years. Pictures and media reports indicate that people are active during the evening and the streets are crowded despite public health guidelines; before the daily fast is broken the markets are full of shoppers; once the fast has been broken the streets teems with pedestrians; many people celebrate in public parks and on the beach; some Gazans visit relatives in the evening and many young people hang around in front of buildings and in public parks until the small hours of the morning (al-Araby al-Jadeed, May 12, 2020).
Disregard for Social Distancing
Crowded streets at night during Ramadan
(al-Araby al-Jadeed, May 12, 2020)
Picture from a video showing shoppers crowding in markets to prepare for the fast-breaking meal (al-Araby al-Jadeed, May 10, 2020). Left: Gazans eat their fast-breaking meal on the beach (Palinfo Twitter account, May 11, 2020).
Senior Hamas figures not wearing masks. Right: Ghazi Hamad, deputy minister of social development at a meeting with the leadership of the return marches. (Facebook page of the ministry of social development, May 11, 2020). Left: Delegation of Hamas representatives to the Legislative Council pays a condolence call to the house of Ahmed al-Bakr (Facebook page of the Legislative Council in Gaza, May 12, 2020).
Preparations for an Outbreak of COVID-19 Inside the Gaza Strip
- The ministry of health in Gaza continues preparing for a possible COVID-19 outbreak. The public health system, along with the French Médecins du monde organization, held a drill to examine the preparedness of ERs to receive patients with respiratory ailments. The drill was conducted near the Shifaa Medical Center and was observed by Yusuf Abu Rish, the deputy minister of health, and members of the national COVID-19 council (Facebook page of the ministry of health in Gaza, May 11, 2020).
A drill to examine preparedness conducted by the ministry of health
(Facebook page of the ministry of health in Gaza, May 11, 2020).
- Dr. Medhat Muheisen, aide to the deputy minister of health, met with the directors of non-governmental hospitals to inform them of programs prepared for scenarios of the spread of COVID-19 and the imposition of a lockdown on the Gaza Strip. He stressed the importance of the non-governmental medical sector in bearing the burden of ensuring that all Gazans had accessibility to medical services (al-Ra’i news agency, May 14, 2020). In a previous meeting he reported on a program, formulated along with non-governmental institutions, to train 25 mobile medical teams who will go to the homes of patients in need of medical care (website of the ministry of health in Gaza, April 19, 2020).
Foreign Aid for the Gaza Strip
- On May 10, 2020, the WHO delivered laboratory equipment for the detection of coronavirus for 2,200 Gazans. It arrived thanks to the Occupied Palestinian Territories Humanitarian Fund (Facebook page of the regional WHO office, May 13, 2020). In addition, on May 13, 2020 the Organization delivered 2,688 testing kits (Facebook page of the regional WHO office, May 15, 2020).
The WHO provides COVID-19 testing kits (Right: Facebook page of the WHO regional office in the Palestinian territories, May 13, 2020; left: Facebook page of the WHO regional office in the Palestinian territories, May 15, 2020).
- On May 13, 2020, Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health in Gaza, said a shipment of medical aid sent by Turkey had arrived in the PA. He said the ministry of health in Gaza was waiting for the delivery of two PCR machines and 20,000 test kits, in accordance with the list of equipment for the Gaza Strip (al-Ra’i news agency, May 14, 2020).
- Ashraf al-Qidra said that ministry of health in Gaza was monitoring all the aid for the fight against COVID-19 sent by states and institutions through the PA. He said so far the equipment had not reached the Gaza Strip (al-Ra’i news agency, May 14, 2020). He again complained that the [so-called] Israeli “siege” was an on-going threat to the lives of the residents of the Gaza Strip, where there were no proper medical or humanitarian infrastructures, and called on all sides to work to end [the “siege”]. He again complained that the shortage of drugs, disposable medical equipment and laboratory equipment had reached a dangerous stage. He called on the relevant agencies to respond urgently and provide medical necessities, materials for laboratory testing, ICU beds and ventilators (al-Ra’i news agency, May 14, 2020).
- The ministry of labor in the Gaza Strip announced the provision of financial aid from the International Red Cross to more than 1,500 employees of the private educational sector who were harmed by coronavirus. Maher Abu Raya, head of the department of intercity and international cooperation in the ministry of health, said the Red Cross aid amounted to half a million dollars, which would be distributed over three months, a hundred dollars to each employee. He added the workers in kindergartens, special education centers, private vocational training schools and school cafeterias (al-Ra’i news agency, May 13, 2020).
Relaxing Preventive Measures
- Salama Maarouf, chairman of the Hamas administration media bureau, said they intended to reopen the schools in August 2020. The teachers will go back to work and on August 8 classes will begin (Palinfo, May 14, 2020).
- Despite rumors that the mosques will reopen for Eid al-Fitr, the ministry of Muslim endowments in Gaza announced that the decision to close the mosques and the ban on public prayers were still in force. According to the ministry, an ad hoc government committee was appointed to examine the possibility of holding Friday prayers in the mosques accompanied by a series of strict limitations (website of the ministry of Muslim endowments in the Gaza Strip, May 14, 2020).