The Fight Against the Spread of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip (Updated to June 14, 2020)

The Legislative Council delegation visits the European Hospital (website of the Legislative Council in Gaza, June 8, 2020).

The Legislative Council delegation visits the European Hospital (website of the Legislative Council in Gaza, June 8, 2020).

Qur'an-memorizing recommences before the ministry's announcement (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, June 9, 2020).

Qur'an-memorizing recommences before the ministry's announcement (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, June 9, 2020).

Qur'an-memorizing recommences before the ministry's announcement (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, June 9, 2020).

Qur'an-memorizing recommences before the ministry's announcement (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, June 9, 2020).

A beach in Gaza, June 12, 2020: no preventive measures taken (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, June 134, 2020).

A beach in Gaza, June 12, 2020: no preventive measures taken (Twitter account of journalist Hassan Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, June 134, 2020).

Wall painting in Gaza shows Israel shooting a cloud of the coronavirus at a Palestinian (Twitter account of YouthGoDigital, June 8, 2020).

Wall painting in Gaza shows Israel shooting a cloud of the coronavirus at a Palestinian (Twitter account of YouthGoDigital, June 8, 2020).

Overview
  • Last week two more cases of COVID-19 were detected in the Gaza Strip. The total number of COVID-19 cases in Gaza now stands at 72. Of them, 26 are active and are staying in the quarantine hospital at the Rafah Crossing. The number remains low and Hamas’ handling of preventing the spread of the disease has so far been successful.
  • Given the situation, the easing of restrictions has been trending upwards, while preventive measures are still strictly enforced. Qur’an memorization sessions in the mosques have been renewed and the courts are in session again. However, mass-participation activities such as ceremonies and organized trips are still not being held.
  • The establishment of the quarantine centers in the Gaza Strip has been widely praised for (so far) having prevented the internal spread of the virus. However, despite the current good situation, the public health system continues preparing the European Hospital in Khan Yunis as the designated center for coronavirus patients in case of an internal outbreak. The spokesman for the ministry of health continues complaining about the lack of medical equipment, blaming Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) for Gaza’s health system difficulties.
  • Closing Gaza’s borders in the wake of the coronavirus brought imports of clothing from China and other countries to a halt, leading the local textile factories to flourish. Reportedly, the local factories are not only filling the void in Gaza itself, they are also exporting their clothing to the Israeli and Palestinian markets.
The Extent of the Infection

Last week two more cases of COVID-19 were found in Palestinians isolated in a quarantine center (Sawa, June 10, 2020). Thus the total number of reported COVID-19 cases in the Gaza Strip now stands at 72 (70 last week). Of them, 26 are active cases. One woman has died. All the active cases are hospitalized at the quarantine center at the Rafah Crossing. So far there have been 45 recoveries, 27 are still in the quarantine center in Rafah and 18 are isolated at home (Shehab, June 12, 2020; Dunia al-Watan, June 13, 2020).

  • So far 372 Gazans who came into contact with verified reported cases are isolated in seven quarantine centers in the Gaza Strip (Dunia al-Watan, June 13, 2020). In Gaza 11,703 tests have been conducted, 11,631 of which came back negative (Dunia al-Watan quoting a ministry of health report, June 13, 2020).
Preventive Measures Taken in the Gaza Strip
The effectiveness of the quarantine centers
  • There has been praise in the Gaza Strip for the preventive measures taken, especially the construction of the quarantine centers, thanks to which infection inside Gaza has so far been prevented. Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health in Gaza, praised the success of the centers, which, he said, were the most important in a series of preventive measures taken in the Gaza Strip to handle the coronavirus pandemic. He thanked all the Gazans for their patience and understanding, adding that Gaza faced an ongoing threat that demanded care and strict adherence to the precautionary measures (al-Ra’i news agency, June 11, 2020).
  • Participants at a meeting of the advisory team of the committee dealing with the pandemic (headed by deputy ministry of health Dr. Yusuf Abu al-Rish) praised the concept of the quarantine centers as having proved its effectiveness. They called the centers the most important preventive measure implemented in Gaza, and said it was important to improve the centers’ work, including determining authorized medical protocols (al-Ra’i news agency, June 10, 2020).
Preparing the designated hospital in Khan Yunis
  • Dr. Yusuf Abu al-Rish, deputy ministry of health in Gaza, reported that the program to prepare a designated hospital (the European Hospital in Khan Yunis) into an epidemiological center was proceeding on schedule (al-Ra’i news agency, June 11, 2020).
  • A delegation from the health and welfare committee of the Legislative Council, headed by Khamis al-Najar, chairman of the Council’s health committee, paid a visit to the European Hospital. The delegation was received by the hospital administration, a representative of the ministry of health, and Dr. Abd al-Nasser Sabah of the W.H.O. They held a meeting where obstacles to preparing the hospital for COVID-19 patients were discussed. The main topics were the shortage of medical and PPE equipment and laboratory tests, the small number of medical and administrative personnel, and the need to train staff members in the practical treatment of patients (website of the Legislative Council in Gaza, June 8, 2020).
The W.H.O. organizing team, headed by Dr. Abd al-Nasser Sabah, visits the European Hospital (Facebook page of the W.H.O. regional office, June 12, 2020).    The Legislative Council delegation visits the European Hospital (website of the Legislative Council in Gaza, June 8, 2020).
Right: The Legislative Council delegation visits the European Hospital (website of the Legislative Council in Gaza, June 8, 2020). Left: The W.H.O. organizing team, headed by Dr. Abd al-Nasser Sabah, visits the European Hospital (Facebook page of the W.H.O. regional office, June 12, 2020).

More Restrictions Lifted

  • Given the low numbers of COVID-19 patients and the success in preventing the virus from spreading, more restrictions are being lifted. After allowing prayers to be held [in mosques], the ministry of Muslim endowments in Gaza announced the renewal of Qur’an-memorization and Qur’an study groups in all the mosques in the Gaza Strip, starting June 13, 2020. The lessons will be held with strict implementation of the health safety guidelines and preventive measures, including social distancing. Mass-participation activities are still forbidden, such as ceremonies and organized trips (website of the ministry of Muslim endowments in Gaza, June 12, 2020).
The Gaza Strip’s Economy in the Shadow of COVID-19
  • Despite the reopening of reception venues and restaurants, Salah Abu Haseera, head of the committee for restaurants, hotels and touristic services in Gaza, said local residents were avoiding such places. He said owners had not managed to recoup the millions of dollars in losses they had incurred. So far, he said, only about 2,500 workers had returned to their jobs, and they were not receiving full salaries (Chinese news agency in Arabic, June 11, 2020).
  • On the other hand, according to reports, during the past three months the Gaza Strip did not import clothing from China, Turkey or Italy, which has led the local textile factories to work overtime to fill the demand. It was the first time since 2007 that the Gaza Strip textile industry has been working at 80%-95% capacity. Tayseer al-Ustaz, head of the textile and garments union in Gaza, said three thousand workers had returned to their jobs during the past three months, bringing the total number of workers in textile factories to eight thousand. He said that most of the production focused on clothing and protective suits, and that large quantities were exported to the West Bank and Israeli markets. He said 16 factories and companies exported their merchandise to Israel and the West Bank on a permanent basis (al-Ayam, June 9, 2020; Palestine Online, June 13, 2020).
Foreign Aid for the Gaza Strip
  • Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health in Gaza, continues to call for help and support for the needs of the ministry of health for fighting COVID-19. He again complained that the ministry of health suffers from serious shortages, since the supply of drugs has been depleted by 44%, as has 30% of disposable medical equipment and 56% of laboratory equipment and reagents. He claimed that the ongoing [so-called] “Israeli siege” and the non-delivery of the Gaza Strip’s portion of the foreign aid received by the PA make it difficult to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. He also warned of the worsening of the condition of patients who were not ill with COVID-19 who could not receive the appropriate medical treatment in Gaza, and said Israel was responsible for their lives (al-Ra’i news agency, June 11, 2020).

Wall painting in Gaza shows Israel shooting a cloud of the coronavirus at a Palestinian (Twitter account of YouthGoDigital, June 8, 2020).
Wall painting in Gaza shows Israel shooting a cloud of the coronavirus at a Palestinian
(Twitter account of YouthGoDigital, June 8, 2020).

  • On June 9, 2020, the Israeli foreign ministry announced that an Ittihad Airways (the UAE national airline) plane had flown from Abu Dhabi directly to Ben-Gurion International Airport. According to reports, the plane was carrying 15 ventilators for Palestinian COVID-19 patients. It was also reported that the flight had been coordinated with the Israeli foreign ministry and that the equipment would be delivered to the Gaza Strip and the PA though the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the UN (Facebook page of the Israeli foreign ministry, June 9, 2020). Sources in the Hamas administration claimed they knew nothing of the shipment and that they had not been updated on the issue (aljazeera.net, June 9, 2020). Mahmoud al-Zahar, a member of Hamas political bureau, who regarded landing a plane from Abu Dhabi in Israel as a sign of Israeli-Arab normalization, referred to the aid flown in as “corrupt bribery” and said no Palestinian could accept it (al-Mayadeen, June 11, 2020).

A UAE plane in Ben-Gurion International Airport (Facebook page of the Israeli foreign ministry, June 9, 2020).
A UAE plane in Ben-Gurion International Airport
(Facebook page of the Israeli foreign ministry, June 9, 2020).