As coronavirus spread globally, Gaza was shut off from the world amid fears its fragile healthcare system could not cope with the pandemic. Now the first cases have been detected within the enclave and Palestinians there say they are facing a “catastrophic” situation.
“Gaza has already collapsed,” said Mahmoud Miqdad, a supermarket owner. “No work, no money, no travel, wars, killings, suicides, and now coronavirus. What else can we expect?” asked the 41-year-old.
Gaza’s 2 million residents were in lockdown on Tuesday after authorities announced four people from the same family had tested positive for coronavirus in the central Maghazi camp. All Gazans returning from Israel or Egypt had to remain isolated at dedicated centres.
The emergence of the virus in Gaza comes despite months of severe restrictions on exit and entry to the strip which have hit the already weak economy.
Shahed Smiri, a 35-year-old NGO worker, said she feared for her family and had just enough food to last the 48-hour shutdown.
“I don’t know how Gaza will be in the coming days and weeks, with cases inside the community, it is literally catastrophic,” she said.
Streets were deserted across Gaza as authorities sought to detect any other infections and stop the spread of coronavirus among the strip’s densely populated neighbourhoods. Residents had been ordered to stay home and businesses, schools and mosques were closed.
“The next 48 hours are important and essential, and we call on citizens to fully cooperate with the measures taken,” the interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bazam said as the lockdown was imposed late on Monday.
Authorities carried out an exercise last month to test their preparedness for a coronavirus outbreak. The few people granted permission to enter Gaza in recent months have been held in quarantine for three weeks.
Gaza’s health ministry says 110 coronavirus cases and one death have been recorded at the quarantine facilities.
Just 305 people entered Gaza last month through the Erez crossing with Israel, UN figures show.
In addition to the economic and social toll of such restrictions, there has been increased tensions between Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, and Israel this month.
Incendiary balloons have been repeatedly flown over the frontier, setting Israeli farmland ablaze, while rockets have also been fired from Gaza. Israel has hit back by repeatedly striking targets of Hamas’s military wing, as well as imposing measures which directly harm civilians. These include a fishing ban, closing the main goods crossing and suspending fuel imports.
The latter led to the shutdown of Gaza’s only power plant and residents are currently receiving around six hours of electricity a day, down from 12 at the start of the month.
Miqdad, the supermarket owner, said the energy crisis was affecting everyone.
“People don’t have money to purchase food. Even for those who have money, there’s no electricity to store extra food in the fridge,” he said. “Life is miserable already, it could worsen now.”
Zaki Masoud, a farmer, said he had hoped the border skirmishes would end soon so he could access land near the frontier which had been cut off by the threat of a military escalation.
“Since they announced yesterday the cases of infections in Gaza, I don’t think our return will be soon,” he said.
The 28-year-old borrowed money to cover his wedding expenses a few months ago, but without being able to work he is unable to repay the debt.
“I’m getting about 50 shekels (£11) a day from my work, and with this little amount of money I’m barely able to cover my expenses. I don’t know how I will be able to survive without my work,” he said.
Gaza was already in a dire economic state. Poverty was on the rise and the unemployment rate reached 45.5% in the first quarter of this year, according to the Israeli human rights organisation Gisha.
Israel occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005 and then imposed a blockade on the territory following Hamas’s takeover in 2007. Despite widespread criticism of its negative impact on civilians, Israel says the blockade is necessary for security reasons. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and there are concerns that the recent incidents could spark further violence.
Masoud said: “My only hope is that the situation gets better and the ministry of health is able to contain the virus in Gaza, and we will be able to return to work with security and stability as well.”
There have been widespread reports of a rise in suicides among young Gazans in recent months.
Hiba Assar, a 38-year-old housewife, said Gazans lived in fear of bombardment and were now having to confront the coronavirus.
“Why should we be the ones who face all these troubles?” she asked. “There is no way to cope with this life … We need to feel we are human and treated like humans.”
Assar said her husband was barely able to earn enough to feed their family of four children.
“We rely on God only to help us and save Gaza from the catastrophic situation we have already been living in for years.”
Source: The Guardian