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Fears over outbreak of coronavirus in Gaza

Oxfam representative says resources are diminishing and people are worried
The United Nations has warned that poverty and a debilitated health system in the Palestinian territories would make an outbreak of the coronavirus particularly disastrous. There are only a handful of confirmed cases of the disease in Gaza so far.  But few think it will stay that way. Najla Shawa is the food security manager at Oxfam in Gaza. 

(Photo: Palestinian artist puts a protective painted face mask on a girl in Gaza City. Credit: Reuters)

Gaza: Virus fears in crowded strip

Yolande Knell

BBC Middle East correspondent, Jerusalem

In Gaza, police patrol the beachfront to check coffee shops are closed and drive around with loudspeakers ordering people to stay home after the first two coronavirus cases were announced on Sunday.

Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have worried about it reaching this impoverished coastal enclave - one of the world’s most densely populated places.

Social distancing is almost impossible among large families living in Gaza's crowded refugee camps and built-up neighbourhoods, raising fears that infection could spread fast and that overstretched hospitals could be overwhelmed.

"It’s a very difficult and challenging environment," says Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the World Health Organization in the Palestinian Territories. He rushed to Gaza after two men returning from Pakistan tested positive for coronavirus.

"The good thing is that they were in quarantine all the time. They are isolated now so that the risk that this spreads further is minimised," Dr Rockenschaub says.

Boys wearing masks play football in Gaza (22/03/20)
Getty Images

More medical supplies are being sent to Gaza, and Qatar has pledged $150m (£130m) over the coming six months to help combat the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Schools, public markets and wedding halls have already been shut for two weeks. Now restrictions have been tightened.

"The number of people on the streets has dramatically decreased and so has my work," says taxi driver Alaa Saleh.

"I’m worried about having no income but I’m also worried because my job brings me into close contact with people, so maybe I could catch the virus."

Gaza has been kept under blockade by Israel and Egypt since the militant group, Hamas, took full control of the territory in 2007. Up to now, some Gazans had been commenting on the irony of how their enforced isolation appeared to be protecting them during this health crisis.

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