Gaza enters second week of lockdown amid scramble to control outbreak

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Palestinians in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on August 30, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

The latest:

  • 32,817 Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19; 24,445 in the West Bank; 697 in Gaza; 7,675 in East Jerusalem; 192 deaths
  • 126,419 Israelis tested positive for COVID-19; 993 deaths; Israel’s recorded it’s single largest recorded number of new cases on Wednesday with 3,074 testing positive

Most of the Gaza Strip remains under lockdown for a second week as health officials scramble to rapidly increase testing while ordering Palestinians to their homes in attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Last week saw the entire Gaza Strip under lockdown as the first cases of community transmission were discovered. This week those lockdowns were reduced to 19 hotspots. 

The World Health Organization described Gaza’s tiered curfew in their latest situation report, reporting in the north there is “no movement except for emergency purposes until further notice,” and in the center and south people are ordered to their homes overnight between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m.

At the same time, testing, which was at around 18,000 tests last week, increased with week when the WHO in partnership with the Austrian Development Agency delivered another 50 testing kits capable of screening almost 5,000, and an additional 4,000 swabs.  More than 7,000 have been tested since August 24 with close to 500 testing positive. 

At the same time as lockdown orders rolled out, water service in Gaza cut out, leaving many Palestinians quarantined in their homes with around four hours of electricity a day and no water from the tap. Let’s back up a little to explain:

Concurrent to the pandemic there was an escalation between Hamas and Israel that got little coverage. Palestinians in Gaza sent balloons fixed with incendiary devices and fired rockets into Israel, and Israel launched almost nightly airstrikes on Gaza. In the context of these hostilities Israel halted the transfer of fuel, which caused Gaza’s only power plant to cease operating. Immediately this left Palestinians in an electricity crisis, which then snowballed into a water crisis. Municipal water service in Gaza depends on the constant flow of energy to desalination plants to clean water that is pumped in from wells that tap into an aquifer. The whole operation falls apart if there is no power. 

For one family, the outage proved fatal. 

Omar al-Hazeen used candles to light his home in the al-Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. On Wednesday a fire broke out in the bedroom shared by three of his children who were tragically killed in the blaze.

Omar al-Hazeen inspects his house where his three children were killed in a fire ignited by a candle used to light their bedroom during a power outage in al-Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on September 2, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Omar al-Hazeen inspects his house where his three children were killed in a fire ignited by a candle used to light their bedroom during a power outage in al-Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on September 2, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

No power, no water, lockdown leaves Gaza’s poorest without basic sustenance 

Palestinian health workers spray disinfectant on vehicles entering the Maghazi refugee camp as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus in the central Gaza Strip on September 1, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Tareq S. Hajjaj reported the devastating consequences on our site, talking to families in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood in the northeast of Gaza. 

“We have heard and seen the dangers of this pandemic but sitting at home is another threat of death. We could starve,” Baker Mousa, 52, told Hajjaj who interviewed him in front of his home where the living room was converted into a small grocery store. “Days ago I had to knock on my neighbor’s door to get some water.”

Prevented from leaving their houses due to lockdown measures and trapped at home with dry faucets, Hajjaj found many in Shujaiyeh were making the difficult choice of buying water instead of food.

Hajjaj reports:

Majeda al-Zaalan, 49, sits at her kitchen table with her three teenage sons and organizes their resources for the day. She divides a single serving of bread and cheese for the four to share. Next she organizes water, giving each three liters per day for personal use. She did laundry for the household once in the last week and everyone was rationed to one shower. 

‘In such times, water is the most valuable thing and it must be in every home, but unfortunately we don’t even have it normally,’ she said. 

‘The family used to live off of  a small income from my eldest son Ahmed who sold little bottles of perfume in a main street. But since Monday none of us have walked out the door,’ al-Zaalan continued. Now her sole source of income comes from a grant from the British charity Oxfam International who provides her with a modest $35 each month.

‘I only have my family and have no intention to lose any of them,’ she continued.”

What led to the outbreak?

Dr. Yasser Jamei, head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, the largest Palestinian mental health provider in the Gaza Strip, recounted how officials, rather by accident, learned of the undetected spread of the coronavirus.

Jamei reports a synopsis from contact tracing, 

Monday, August 24, 2020 dramatic news to the population in the Gaza Strip. Earlier that day, Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem informed the health officials that a woman from Gaza who was present at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. The woman was there as a companion of her sick daughter who had received a permit to exit Gaza on humanitarian grounds. They arrived in Jerusalem six days prior. The ministry of health in Gaza reached the woman’s family who lives in the Maghazi refugee camp in the middle of the Strip and tested her family members. Four among them tested positive, of whom one owns a supermarket. Another relative works in a school.

Just before leaving Gaza, the woman who tested positive in Jerusalem had attended a wedding. Larges celebrations had been banned, but a few weeks earlier the local authorities took several measures easing restrictions.  This was based on the fact that Gaza was considered COVID free. Mosques were reopened. Gatherings were permissible and the students went back to schools in the first week of August.”

Surviving the pandemic and occupation in the West Bank

Most of the summer we’ve reported on the staggering increase in the number of daily new cases in the West Bank where a more virulent second wave of the coronavirus has hit. In just August alone, the total number of those who tested positive across the occupied Palestinian territory doubled from 15,201 to 31,929, reports the WHO. Most of the increase is in the West Bank.

This week Mondoweiss’s correspondent Yumna Patel released a second video in her five-part series reporting on how Palestinians are enduring the pandemic under occupation. Her latest installment takes us to the village of al-Walaja outside of Bethlehem, which is located in Area C of the West Bank, noting, “the Palestinian Authority has been prevented from helping with containment efforts here,” and that the Israeli government has “provided nothing” for Palestinians “in the way of coronavirus testing, treatment, or containment.”

Patel reports:

Imagine being left to fend for yourself against the coronavirus, as your home is threatened by demolition, and your family is living under military occupation.

That is the reality for Palestinians living in the village of Al-Walaja, nestled between the hills of Bethlehem and Jerusalem in the southern occupied West Bank.”

You can watch the video, COVID-19 in Palestine: Pandemic Under Occupation, here.

If you missed part I, check it out here. 

That’s it for this week. Stay safe and enjoy the rest of your summer.