The Fight Against COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip (Updated to May 24, 2020)

The Eid al-Fitr prayer in the al-Om'ari mosque in Gaza City (QudsN Twitter account, May 24, 2020).

The Eid al-Fitr prayer in the al-Om'ari mosque in Gaza City (QudsN Twitter account, May 24, 2020).

UAE plane with said for Gaza (Facebook page of the Israeli foreign ministry, May 20, 2020).

UAE plane with said for Gaza (Facebook page of the Israeli foreign ministry, May 20, 2020).

Crowding and the absence of face masks in the Jabalia refugee camp (Palinfo Twitter account, May 22, 2020).

Crowding and the absence of face masks in the Jabalia refugee camp (Palinfo Twitter account, May 22, 2020).

The director of the regional W.H.O. office in Gaza hands over the test kits (Facebook page of the regional W.H.O. office in the PA territories, May 21, 2020).

The director of the regional W.H.O. office in Gaza hands over the test kits (Facebook page of the regional W.H.O. office in the PA territories, May 21, 2020).

Delivering the test kits (Twitter account of the Qatari Red Crescent, May 22, 2020).

Delivering the test kits (Twitter account of the Qatari Red Crescent, May 22, 2020).

Delivering the test kits (Twitter account of the Qatari Red Crescent, May 22, 2020).

Delivering the test kits (Twitter account of the Qatari Red Crescent, May 22, 2020).

Overview
  • This past week 35 new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in the Gaza Strip, all of them Gazans returning through the Rafah Crossing. The total number of COVID-19 cases in the Gaza Strip now stands at 55, 39 of them active. This past week the first COVID-19 death was recorded in Gaza, a woman in her 70s.
  • Given the incidence of new cases arriving through the Rafah Crossing, and with the quarantine centers at full capacity, the authorities in the Gaza Strip announced the closing of the Rafah and Erez Crossings until June 30, 2020 at the earliest.
  • On May 22, 2020, the mosques opened after having been closed for about two months. The prayers were held with restrictions and limitations in place and supervised by Hamas’ security forces. The Eid al-Fitr prayers are expected to be held in the same way. Gazans have been called on to obey the restrictions during the holiday. However, despite the restrictions, the Palestinian public in Gaza continues crowding the markets and streets.
  • Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health in Gaza, continues reporting a serious shortage of drugs, and laboratory and disposable medical equipment. He claims the shortage is the result of the [so-called] Israeli “siege.” During the week a number of deliveries of medical equipment, test kits and ventilators arrived in Gaza. However, the aid is insufficient to meet the severe shortage in Gaza.
The Extent of the Infection

The total reported number of COVID-19 cases in Gaza is currently 55, 39 of which are active and hospitalized in the quarantine hospital at the Rafah Crossing. Sixteen patients have recovered, four are still in the quarantine center at the Rafah Crossing and 12 have been discharged to their homes (al-Ra’i, news agency, May 23, 2020). This past week the first COVID-19 death was reported. So far the ministry of health has conducted 8,824 tests (as of May 23, 2020).The results of 8,769 were negative (Sawa, May 23, 2020).

  • This past week 35 new cases were reported, all Gazans who recently returned through the Rafah Crossing and all currently quarantined. Dr Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health in Gaza, stressed that no new cases have been reported inside the Gaza Strip (Shehab, May 23, 2020).
  • The 35 new cases, according to the daily distribution:
    • May 19, 2020: Three cases, including a woman in her 70s, who later died, a man in his 40s and a 19-year old boy.
    • May 20, 2020: Seven cases.
    • May 21, 2020: Twenty-five cases.
  • The ministry of health in Gaza reported that 1,680 people were currently in the quarantine centers (as of May 23, 2020) (al-Ra’i news agency, May 23, 2020). Among them are 113 Palestinians who entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez Crossing on May 18 and 20, 2020 (website of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 18 and 20, 2020).
  • On May 23, 2020, the first COVID-19 death was reported in Gaza, a 77-year-old woman from Khan Yunis with underlying health conditions. She was diagnosed with the virus upon entering the Gaza Strip through the Rafah.
Closing the Crossings
  •  The foreign ministry in the Palestinian Authority (PA) reported that the ninth group of Palestinians returning from Jordan, some of them Gazans, had arrived in the PA territories on May 21, 2020. The ministry said it was the third group of Gazans (Sawa, May 20, 2020). The crossings and border authority of the Hamas ministry of the interior reported that of the 56 Gazans who entered through the Erez Crossing on May 20, 2020. Of them, 24 were students who had arrived from the United States. All the new arrivals were sent to quarantine centers for 21 days (alresala.net, May 21, 2020).
Measures on the Gazan side of the Erez Crossing to deal with the arrival of Palestinians (Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 18, 2020).    Measures on the Gazan side of the Erez Crossing to deal with the arrival of Palestinians (Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 18, 2020).
Measures on the Gazan side of the Erez Crossing to deal with the arrival of Palestinians
(Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 18, 2020).
  • Following the results of the examinations of the Palestinians who arrived through the Rafah Crossing, Salama Maarouf, chairman of the Hamas administration’s bureau of information, announced the closing of both the Rafah and Erez Crossings. They will remain closed until June 30, 2020, and reopening them will depend on the situation (al-Aqsa, May 23, 2020). Khalil al-Haya said the crossings had been closed because the health-care system did not have room to take care of more returnees (al-Aqsa, May 21, 2020).
Concerns in the Health-Care System Over an Outbreak of the Virus Inside the Gaza Strip
  • The rise in the number of COVID-19 cases and the death of the woman caused concern among senior figures in the health-care system, senior Hamas figures and the public at large. There were also calls on the social networks to enforce stricter conditions in the quarantine centers and to prevent an outbreak of the disease. The diagnosis of new cases caused worry about an outbreak of COVID-19 inside Gaza beyond the confines of the quarantine centers.
  • Several senior figures related to the fight against the coronavirus expressed their concerns:
    • Dr. Majdi Suheir, chairman of the consulting committee to fight COVID-19 in Gaza, said that this past week was “the most dangerous week for the Gaza Strip.” He said that was because many people had come into contact with the newly-diagnosed cases, which would raise the number of infections. The said the guidelines could not completely prevent the spread of the disease because the markets were crowded and one person with COVID-19 could lead to a mass outbreak. He also said that the Eid al-Fitr prayer would be another source of threat, as would the passage of Gazans from one district to another for the holiday (alresala.net, May 22, 2020).
    • Yusuf Abu al-Rish, general manager of the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip, said the new cases had come in contact with dozens of people while they were still on the Egyptian side of the Rafah Crossing and in the waiting rooms. They also came into contact with people as they were being transferred to the quarantine centers. He said they were trying to identify them trace their movements with the security cameras at the Rafah Crossing (al-Aqsa, May 21, 2020). On another occasion he said that despite all the measures taken by the ministry of health, they could not totally ensure that there would be no cases of transmission inside the Gaza Strip.
    • Dr. Abd al-Nasser Sabah, director of the regional office of the W.H.O. in Gaza, said that the new cases diagnosed in the quarantine centers were liable to lead to an outbreak of the virus within the general population. He added that the health-care system was still not ready to deal with hundreds of cases. He warned that opening the mosques for the Friday and Eid al-Fitr prayers would assist an outbreak, as would not following the preventive guidelines and the unexplained complacency in public places and the markets. He said the W.H.O. urged the public at large and authority figures as well to implement the guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus within the general population (Facebook page in Arabic of the regional office of the W.H.O. in the PA territories, May 21, 2020).
    • Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for the ministry of the interior in Gaza, said they were monitoring the development of the disease and after a comprehensive investigation they had found there was no cause for concern about cases of the virus outside the quarantine centers.
    • Khalil al-Haya, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, said that a meeting of some of the Hamas leadership had been held with administrative figures monitoring events, and they had voted to renew the preventive measures. He said that the number of people who tested [positive] was a threat to the Gaza Strip, and urged Palestinians to take measures to protect themselves from the virus (al-Aqsa, May 21, 2020).
    • Salama Maarouf, chairman of the administrative information bureau, and Abd al-Hadi al-Agha, deputy minister of Muslim endowments, called on local residents to obey restrictions and limitations during Eid al-Fitr and in crowded locations.
Opening the Mosques for Prayers
  • Despite the significant increase in the number of active cases, the ministry of Muslim affairs in Gaza announced that its decision to open the mosques for the May 22, 2020, Friday prayers was still in force, conditioned on following the restrictions and limitations (website of the ministry of Muslim endowments, May 21, 2020). Khalil al-Haya, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, said that if Gazans practiced social distancing during the prayers it would encourage continuing the Friday prayers in the mosques. However, if Gazans did not practice preventive measures the mosques would turn into hotspots for the spread of the disease and the decision to hold prayers in the mosques would be reversed (al-Aqsa, May 21, 2020).
  • On May 22, 2020, the Friday prayers were held in the mosques for the first time in two months. They were held under the supervision of the security forces and with the strict limitations imposed by the ministry of Muslim endowments, including social distancing, wearing face masks, hand sanitizing, etc. Women, children and the elderly were asked not to pray in the mosques but to continue praying at home. Salama Maarouf, in charge of the administrative information bureau, praised the conduct of the worshippers, saying that the Friday prayers were held according to the guidelines of the ministry of health (Dunia al-Watan, May 22, 2020).
The Friday prayer in the Great Mosque in the al-Bureij refugee camp (Palinfo Twitter account, May 22, 2020).    The Friday prayer in the Salim Abu Muslim mosque in the northern Gaza Strip (Twitter account of photojournalist Muhammad al-Masri, May 22, 2020).
Right: The Friday prayer in the Salim Abu Muslim mosque in the northern Gaza Strip (Twitter account of photojournalist Muhammad al-Masri, May 22, 2020). Left: The Friday prayer in the Great Mosque in the al-Bureij refugee camp (Palinfo Twitter account, May 22, 2020).
An operative of Hamas' military wing helps a man put on a mask (Twitter account of photojournalist Muhammad al-Masri, May 22, 2020).    Distributing masks and sanitizing the hands of worshippers at mosque entrances (Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 22, 2020).
Right: Distributing masks and sanitizing the hands of worshippers at mosque entrances (Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 22, 2020). Left: An operative of Hamas’ military wing helps a man put on a mask (Twitter account of photojournalist Muhammad al-Masri, May 22, 2020).
Eid al-Fitr in the Shadow of COVID-19
  • Senior figures in the Hamas administration and the media in the Gaza Strip launched a campaign to motivate local residents to follow the public health guidelines and avoid gathering during Eid al-Fitr (May 24-26, 2020). The public relations and information unit of the ministry of health, along with the administrative information bureau and local radio stations, aired broadcasts to raise public awareness about preventing the virus (website of the ministry of health in Gaza, May 17, 2020). The public relations and information unit in the ministry of health and the department of preventive medicine launched a social network campaign to increase awareness of the ministry of health’s guidelines, with the hashtag “holiday_without_corona.” Its message was that this year they would celebrate Eid al-Fitr separately so that next year they could celebrate with their entire families (Facebook page of the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip, May 21, 2020).
  • Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for the ministry of the interior, said the decision had been made to close playgrounds and some of the public places during Eid al-Fitr to prevent people from gathering. Beginning on May 24, 2020, the police would increase their presence on the streets and in public places. He said the main challenge would be to enforce the guidelines in the markets, since in recent days they had been very crowded (Shehab Twitter account, May 23, 2020). The fishermen’s union in Gaza announced they had agreed with Hamas’ naval police to impose a closure of the sea during the Eid al-Fitr holiday (Sawa, May 21, 2020).
The police secure and supervise the implementation of the measures (Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 24, 2020).     The police secure and supervise the implementation of the measures (Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 24, 2020).
The police secure and supervise the implementation of the measures
(Twitter account of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, May 24, 2020).
  • Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, gave a sermon for Eid al-Fitr in which he called on the Palestinian public to take preventive measures to protect themselves during the holiday. He said they were to avoid embracing and shaking hands and had to wear face masks and wash and sanitize their hands. He said it was a religious, national and humanitarian duty to obey the guidelines to prevent the disease from spreading throughout the Gaza Strip.
The Eid al-Fitr prayer in the al-Hasayneh mosque in Gaza port (QudsN Twitter account).   The Eid al-Fitr prayer in the al-Om'ari mosque in Gaza City (QudsN Twitter account, May 24, 2020).
Right: The Eid al-Fitr prayer in the al-Om’ari mosque in Gaza City (QudsN Twitter account, May 24, 2020). Left: The Eid al-Fitr prayer in the al-Hasayneh mosque in Gaza port (QudsN Twitter account).
  •  However, despite the efforts of the Hamas administration and senior Hamas figures to inform the public, pictures from Gaza indicate that people crowded into the streets and markets on the eve of Eid al-Fitr, disobeying the guidelines and instructions.
Crowding and the absence of face masks in the Jabalia refugee camp (Palinfo Twitter account, May 22, 2020).   The market in the Jabalia refugee camp on the eve of the holiday (Facebook page of Alarabiya Palestine (the Facebook page of al-Arabiya devoted to Palestine) May 21, 2020).
Right: The market in the Jabalia refugee camp on the eve of the holiday (Facebook page of Alarabiya Palestine (the Facebook page of al-Arabiya devoted to Palestine) May 21, 2020). Left: Crowding and the absence of face masks in the Jabalia refugee camp (Palinfo Twitter account, May 22, 2020).
Foreign Aid for the Fight Against COVID-19
  • Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health, continues reporting on a serious shortage of drugs, laboratory and disposable medical equipment. He still claims the shortages are the result of the [so-called] continuing Israeli “siege.” He said that so far, only 5% of Gaza’s annual ministry of health needs have arrived from the warehouses of the ministry of health in Ramallah. He also reiterated the claim that the Gaza Strip did not receive its share of the international aid sent to the PA for the fight against COVID-19. Al-Qidra called on all the relevant agencies to quickly meet the Gaza Strip’s urgent needs. The assistance is necessary to provide an initial response to the fight against the disease according to the ministry of health’s program (al-Ra’i news agency, May 20, 2020).
  • However, this past week several shipments of drugs and medical equipment arrived in the Gaza Strip:
    •  On May 19, 2020, a UAE Itihad plane which had taken off from Abu Dhabi landed in Ben-Gurion International Airport. It was a cargo flight of medical equipment for Gaza (Reuters, May 19, 2020). The office of Nikolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator and envoy to the Middle East peace process, issued an announcement thanking the UAE for delivering the aid. He said it consisted of 16 tones of PPE and other medical equipment, as well as ten ventilators (UNSCO website, May 19, 2020). Senior figures in the ministry of health in Gaza claimed they had no information about a shipment of aid from Abu Dhabi (Reuters, May 19, 2018).

UAE plane with said for Gaza (Facebook page of the Israeli foreign ministry, May 20, 2020).
UAE plane with said for Gaza
(Facebook page of the Israeli foreign ministry, May 20, 2020).

  • The W.H.O. sent test kits for the detection of COVID-19 for more than 3,100 Gazans (Facebook page of the regional W.H.O. office in the Gaza Strip, May 21, 2020).

The director of the regional W.H.O. office in Gaza hands over the test kits (Facebook page of the regional W.H.O. office in the PA territories, May 21, 2020).
The director of the regional W.H.O. office in Gaza hands over the test kits
(Facebook page of the regional W.H.O. office in the PA territories, May 21, 2020).

  • The ministry of health in Gaza received 800 serological test kits made by the South Korean company Boditech Med, sent by the Qatari Red Crescent (Twitter account of the Qatari Red Crescent, May 22, 2020).
 Delivering the test kits (Twitter account of the Qatari Red Crescent, May 22, 2020).      Delivering the test kits (Twitter account of the Qatari Red Crescent, May 22, 2020).
Delivering the test kits
(Twitter account of the Qatari Red Crescent, May 22, 2020)

.

  • The Palestinian Red Crescent in the Gaza Strip received 24 tons of cleaning products and disinfectants, 3,500 protective suits and 150,000 face masks from the Egyptian Red Crescent (website of al-Masry al-Youm, May 22, 2020).
Aid from Egypt (Twitter account of Muhammad Qreaqa, May 22, 2020)     Aid from Egypt (Twitter account of Muhammad Qreaqa, May 22, 2020)
Aid from Egypt
(Twitter account of Muhammad Qreaqa, May 22, 2020)
  • The ministry of health in Gaza announced that its central laboratory had received 20,000 test kits, part of the aid from Turkey that arrived in the PA on May 5, 2020. According to the announcement, the ministry is still waiting for the arrival of two PCR machines sent for the Gaza Strip (al-Andalou News, May 23, 2020).