After four cases of COVID-19 were confirmed outside of quarantine facilities, the Gaza Strip was placed under a full lockdown for a 48-hour period from Monday night, 24 August 2020. Alarmingly, a further two cases were detected in Al-Shifa Hospital the next day. Businesses, educational institutions, mosques and restaurants were ordered to close. This is the first time that positive cases have been found within the general population in Gaza; all previous confirmed COVID-19 cases were found in Gaza’s quarantine centers, where residents returning from abroad undergo a mandatory quarantine.
Gaza’s residents are desperately fighting to prevent a potentially devastating outbreak of COVID-19, which would overwhelm the battered healthcare system that has already endured almost 14 years of Israel’s illegal closure restrictions and repeated military attacks. From 13 August 2020, the Israeli authorities compounded these conditions by imposing a new series of restrictive measures, which entail a ban on the entry of most goods via Kerem Shalom commercial crossing, including fuel.
The lockdown will likely exacerbate the already catastrophic conditions that follow Israel’s increasingly stringent closure measures that the two million Palestinians in Gaza endure. The population, isolated at home in hot temperatures, are receiving only around three to four hours of electricity daily—dramatically increasing stress levels. The lack of fuel for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Corporation (GEDC) to run the Strip’s sole power plant is a consequence of Israel’s ban on fuel entry, which left Gaza with a deficit of 80 percent of its demand.
Israel’s recent measures further hinder the provision of basic services across crucial sectors, such as water and sanitation. This means that Gazans living in residential buildings will experience chronic water shortages, as the operation of the water pumps that feed the municipal water supply can’t operate according to demand. This raises very serious concerns for the health of residents.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza warned against the serious impact of the power crisis on the population’s wellbeing, especially on inpatients, including 120 premature newborns. The Palestinian healthcare system, with a dire shortage of equipment, medicines, and trained staff, will be unable to deal with a full-blown outbreak of COVID-19. In a press conference on Monday, 24 August, concerning the increased closure measures, the Ministry of Health revealed that the healthcare system’s deficit in drugs stands at 45 percent, while the deficit in medical supplies is 31 percent, with laboratory and blood bank supplies reaching a deficit of 65 percent.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza has further indicated that only a limited number of COVID-19 test kits have entered the Strip—with the majority of these kits already having been used. In this context, the director of the Laboratories Department at the Ministry of Health announced that the prolonged power outages would hinder COVID-19 lab testing and have already led to the damage of COVID-19 samples, which must be stored at minus 20 Celsius. He explained that the use of generators might affect the accuracy of the tests and delay results, causing an immense waste of testing kits and high-cost consumables.
The recent collective punishment policies as well as the alarming coronavirus outbreak are set to intensify the dire living conditions in Gaza and inflame a tragic situation on the back of 13 years of closure, notably in light of the already high rates of poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity.
Al Mezan is deeply concerned for the population’s health and wellbeing, in particular both the older and younger, vulnerable populations in Gaza. Al Mezan calls on the concerned agencies, NGOs and international bodies to mobilize support for residents of the Gaza Strip, whose lives are threatened by the unprecedented coronavirus outbreak, and to improve the living conditions in Gaza. The international community must exert pressure on Israel, the occupying power, to immediately and unconditionally lift the blockade and closure.