Gaza shuts down after first COVID-19 cases outside quarantine centers

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Palestinian workers wear face masks during a 48 hour lockdown imposed following the discovery of the first COVID-19 cases outside of quarantine in the Gaza Strip, August 25, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Health officials in Gaza sounded the alarm today after the first cases of the coronavirus were reported outside of the territory’s quarantine centers. 

Hamas authorities declared a state of emergency and enforced a territory-wide lockdown and curfew on Tuesday after four new cases were detected in the central Gaza Strip. 

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Palestine back in March, authorities in Gaza have done a remarkable job in curbing the spread of the virus, with just over 100 total cases reported in nearly six months. 

Up until Tuesday, all of Gaza’s COVID-19 cases were detected inside the government’s quarantine facilities, which returning travelers are mandated to enter upon their entry into the territory. 

For the next 48 hours, Gaza’s population of more than 2 million Palestinians will be living under a curfew, with schools, businesses, markets and mosques ordered to close. 

Unlike the West Bank, where the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in Palestine have been reported, Gaza’s economy has been fully reopened for months, and students were even returned back to school earlier in August. 

The new cases of the virus were reported among relatives in the al-Maghazi refugee camp, where, as is the case in most refugee camps, overcrowding and poor infrastructure poses a major threat to the community’s ability to stop the spread of the virus. 

More than 70% of Gaza’s population are refugees,many of whom are living below the poverty line without access to basic necessities like clean drinking water, electricity, and healthcare. 

The Gaza Strip has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and has a flailing healthcare system that is constantly on the brink of collapse, following years of devastation caused by Israel’s siege and three military offensives on the territory. 

A potential spread of the coronavirus could devastate Gaza’s health infrastructure and economy beyond repair, and could not come at a worse time. 

On top of only having 100 ventilators in all of Gaza, more than half of which are already in use, the territory has been under fire from Israeli airstrikes for nearly two weeks now, in what Israel says is in response to incendiary balloons that have been launched from Gaza into its territory. 

Just last week, Gaza’s only power plant ran out of fuel, forcing Gazans into darkness, with only three to four hours of electricity a day. 

The news coming out of Gaza has served as a harsh reminder to Palestinians across the occupied territory that they’re not out of the woods yet.

In the coming weeks, Palestinians will continue to be faced with two consistent and very present threats to their lives: the coronavirus, and the Israeli occupation.