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Experts warn of Gaza’s hospital capacity; Israel heads back to lockdown

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The Latest:

  • 148,564 Israelis tested positive for COVID-19; 486 patients in critical care; 1,090 deaths
  • 4,000 Israelis tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, a record breaking number of daily new cases 
  • 37,866 Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19; 27,625 in the West Bank; 1,631 in Gaza; 8,610 in East Jerusalem
  • 232 Palestinian deaths

Gaza’s climbing infection rates amplify worries hospitals will soon be at capacity

Palestinians stroll on the beach amid the coronavirus outbreak near Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on Sept. 07. 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

We’ve been tracking in this newsletter for the last two weeks the first cases of community transmission in Gaza that began when four tested positive in a refugee camp on August 24, and as of Wednesday reached 182 new cases in single day.

To put it more starkly, in the last week the total number of COVID-19 cases in Gaza have tripled, reaching 1,551 yesterday. The International Crisis Group warns that once Gaza reaches 280 new infections daily, “the number of people requiring treatment will exceed the capacity of local hospitals.”

in the last week the total number of COVID-19 cases in Gaza have tripled, reaching 1,551 yesterday. The International Crisis Group warns that once Gaza reaches 280 new infections daily, “the number of people requiring treatment will exceed the capacity of local hospitals.”

Gaza has a total of 350 intensive care beds serving a population of roughly 2 million. That’s woefully unequipped. For a similar population size in the U.S., there are almost 2,000 intensive care beds, as in the case of Houston, Texas, which has a comparable population. 

Initially officials ordered a general lockdown for five days, patrolled by 10,000 police, which kept Palestinians confined to their homes during an electricity and water crisis. Authorities have eased restrictions in most of the Strip between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., however, the entire northern region and more than a dozen hotspots are still under lockdown. 

In opening week, schools shut back down across the West Bank 

Palestinian students wear face masks as schools gradually reopen amid the coronavirus outbreak in the Old City of the West Bank city of Hebron, on September 6, 2020. (Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA Images)

At the start of this week on Sunday, schools opened for the fall semester in the West Bank. However, 80 have already shut down amid rising cases from students and staff, reported the World Health Organization. While universities opened, at least one has already closed in person classes for the semester. On Wednesday, Birzeit University outside of Ramallah notified their 15,000 students all classes would be moved online. 

Lockdown redux, this time Israelis are nearly under home arrest 

Israel will head into a “a three-stage, long-term plan” for lockdown across the entire country next week restricting movement to around a third of a mile from people’s homes, after new cases of COVID-19 continued to jump, hitting a daily record on Thursday of 4,000 cases, double the average number of daily cases from one week earlier. 

Late last night, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his ‘Corona Cabinet’ for an hours long tumultuous debate between his ministers and the coronavirus czar, Dr. Ronni Gamzu who had warned a second general lockdown was likely if infection rates didn’t drop.

“Prof. Gamzu and the hospital directors came to the Corona Cabinet today and waved the red flag. They said that even though the number of severe cases in Israel is still relatively low, this could change in an instant and the hospitals will then be unable to treat them and there will be many severe cases and many deaths,” Netanyahu told reporters yesterday. 

The plan titled the phases “lockdown,” tightened restraint” and the “traffic light plan,” and will be voted on Sunday and implemented next Friday. The scheme did not specify how long each stage will last. The first will be the most stringent, aside from restricting movement, schools grade 5 and up will close and there will be “complete closures” of tourism, recreation, commerce, and businesses, save for restaurants which will be allowed to deliver food. Synagogues, mosques and churches are expected to shutter as well, although as of today no details have been finalized. 

Early on Israel did shut down the airport and suspend most border traffic in March, imposing closures across schools, businesses and houses of worship. However, by late May when new cases had dropped to just a handful each day, schools reopened in a moved that is now widely panned as too early and the cause of the country’s second wave. Within a month, Israel’s ministry of health found the second most common place of infection was schools.

If you haven’t done so already, please check out our video series “COVID-19 in Palestine” by Yumna Patel.

That it for this week. Take care and stay safe.

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