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.


18 killed in clashes in northwestern Syria

A heavily damaged building following Russian airstrikes and shelling on the town of Binnish in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Monday. Three members of the same family were killed in the strike. (AFP)
Updated 46 min 32 sec ago

18 killed in clashes in northwestern Syria

  • Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack

BEIRUT, JERUSALEM: Clashes between opposition groups and pro-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria on Monday thwarted regime’s advance and left 12 pro-regime men dead, a Britain-based war monitoring group said.
Another 17 pro-regime fighters were wounded while on the opposition-led side six fighters died, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion, said the war monitor.
But the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) alliance, headed by ex-leaders of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and their allies reportedly thwarted the advance.
Four HTS and two other opposition fighters were killed in the clashes in a rural area of Latakia province, the monitor said.
The HTS-led alliance also controls large areas of Idlib province and slivers of territory in neighboring Aleppo and Hama.
The region they hold is home to some 3 million people, nearly half of whom have been displaced from other parts of the country.
Syria’s 9-year-old war has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population.
The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.
A Russian-backed regime offensive between December and March displaced nearly a million people in the region.
A Moscow-backed cease-fire agreement in March has reduced violence in the area, but shelling and airstrikes by the regime and its backers continue.
Russian airstrikes on the town of Binnish in Idlib province killed three people from the same family on Monday, according to the Observatory. An AFP photographer saw plumes of smoke rising from the site of the attack.

Golan Heights Activity
The Israeli military said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Syria early on Monday staged by four suspected militants it accused of trying to plant explosives.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Israeli troops earlier spotted “irregular” activity in the Golan Heights. Israeli troops opened fire on the suspected militants, some of whom were armed, after observing them placing the explosives on the ground, Conricus said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Forces loyal to Bashar Assad had launched an attack with artillery and heavy gunfire in Syria’s last major opposition bastion.

• The opposition-held area is a regular target of attacks by regime forces and their Russian and Iranian allies.

There was no official confirmation that the four suspected attackers were killed but a grainy video released by the army shows four figures walking away from barbed wire marking the frontier. The four then disappear in a large explosion that engulfs the area.
The Israeli military has not said if the four are suspected of ties to Iran or Hezbollah, two Syrian allies. However, Conricus said Israel held the Syrian regime responsible for the incident.
Addressing Likud party lawmakers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel “thwarted an attempted sabotage on the Syrian front” and would continue to “harm all those who try to harm us and all those who harm us.”
The incident comes amid heightened tension on Israel’s northern frontier following a recent Israeli airstrike that killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria. Following the airstrike, the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights was hit by explosives fired from Syria and Israel responded by attacking Syrian military positions and beefing up its forces in the area.
Israel has been bracing for further retaliation and last week it said it thwarted an infiltration attempt from Lebanon by Hezbollah militants, setting off one of the heaviest exchanges of fire along the volatile Israel-Lebanon frontier since a 2006 war between the bitter enemies.