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.