Will the Gaza Strip be able to cope with a COVID-19 outbreak?

Concerns are growing over whether Gaza will be able to cope with a spread of coronavirus. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2020

Will the Gaza Strip be able to cope with a COVID-19 outbreak?

  • Gaza’s dense population is particularly problematic for the prevention of the spread of coronavirus
  • The two cases were immediately placed into isolation

DUBAI: The first two cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) were confirmed in Palestine’s Gaza Strip on Sunday. The Palestinians had returned to the strip from Pakistan and were quarantined on arrival.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health said they were immediately held in isolation and have not interacted with the general population.

Speaking exclusively to Arab News Japan, President and CEO of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund Steve Sosebee said “the government in Gaza and the Health Ministry took decisive action early on — before most Western countries — to reduce social interaction and gatherings, which may help contain a quicker and wider spread.”

Sosebee explained that government officials and workers are prepared and checking anybody who is crossing into Gaza through the Rafah border and quarantining them at a facility in the southern part of the strip.

However, if the number of COVID-19 cases were to rise, the result would be “catastrophic,” said Sosebee, with limited health resources such as masks and sanitation supplies due to the blockade imposed by Israel.

“They simply lack the health resources at every level to provide the population there. Should an outbreak occur in Gaza, I believe that it would be worse than what we are seeing in the Lombardy area of Italy,” he added.

The Gaza director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, Matthias Schmale, said it would be “an illusion to think you can manage an epidemic in a closed-off space like this.”

Sosebee said he agreed with Schmale, adding that Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and an outbreak would spread in a “narrow coastal strip that has eight refugee camps and large slums.”

Sosebee added that the residents are “nervous and scared,” as they feel a sense of entrapment, which has been with them for a while now due to the 14-year blockade on the strip.

Residents in Gaza are used to the isolation and confinement that the rest of the world is now experiencing. But that has not eased Gazans’ anxiety over the COVID-19 outbreak, Sosebee told Arab News Japan.

“The people of Palestine — and particularly in Gaza — are a very resilient population who have been through many periods of crisis,” he said, adding: “They have had curfews that lasted for weeks and endured isolation and closures that the rest of the world is experiencing now for the first time.”

The question remains whether the strip will be able endure this storm, despite several years of living under military occupation and closures.


Coronavirus crisis in Egypt has benefits

A man travels on a scooter past the closed El-Sayeda Zainab Mosque in Cairo. (Reuters)
Updated 31 March 2020

Coronavirus crisis in Egypt has benefits

  • The Central Bank of Egypt has directed all local banks to delay the collection of credit liabilities for six months without any rates or fines

CAIRO: People around the world are living in uncertain times as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread. Fatalities and infections are rising as cities and countries go into lockdown.
Egypt is under a partial lockdown, forcing people to stay, work and learn at home. Yet behind this massive change and a fear of the unknown, COVID-19 has brought advantages.
Ever since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi decided to close schools and universities for two weeks, starting on March 15, respect for the government has increased, especially on social media.
“Suddenly the government is laying down a series of preemptive actions to slow down the spread of the virus,” Mohamed Badr, 32, a Cairo resident, said. “They disregarded the economic impact and focused on the safety of the people which made us all proud.”
There have been diplomatic gains. China’s Ambassador to Cairo Liao Liqiang said that China and Egypt are partners and true friends, lauding Egypt’s support to Chinese efforts to combat the virus.
The Central Bank of Egypt has directed all local banks to delay the collection of credit liabilities for six months without any rates or fines.
The government’s order to shut down cafes and malls during curfew hours has led to a ban on the smoking of hookahs.
With fears over infections and with a dusk-to-dawn curfew in place, there is less consumption of unhealthy food.
There are fewer road accidents too. In 2018, there were 8,480 road accidents, according to the Bureau of Statistics. The number is expected to plunge this year due to the drop in vehicles on the road.

FASTFACT

Ever since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi decided to close schools and universities for two weeks, respect for the government has increased.

Working from home is the new normal. The culture of work from home is forcing its way in society as many learning technologies and cloud solutions are connecting homes and workplaces.
“When I used to invite people for a Zoom meeting they were surprised. Today, it’s a normal practice and many clients actually prefer this option,” a sales representative in Cairo said.
And with school and college students stuck at home, educational institutions have quickly taken up distance learning.
With millions of people now stuck in isolation, many are using the opportunity to get creative. Videos on social media show people developing hobbies, tricks, cooking skills and paintings.
Corporations are accelerating digital transformation. Several companies are racing to implement digital and cloud technologies to manage their businesses remotely. Several telco and financial institutions pushed their services online and through contact centers rather than branch visits.
Doctors are finally getting some credit. They have long called for better salaries and benefits but their requests have fallen on deaf ears. The virus has now brought some hope for a better package in the near future.
The environment is cleaner and less polluted. And now, everyone has more time to reflect.