Gaza Under COVID-19

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Gaza’s exceptional vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic is a direct product of decades of Israeli occupation, brutal siege and continued military assaults. Basic preventive measures – social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying home – are impossible to follow in Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated regions, already plagued by systematic de-development: extreme poverty, destruction of infrastructure, damaged medical facilities, shortage of electricity and water and a debilitated health system.  

Thirteen years of siege by land, air and sea, where Israel controls imports, limiting access to medical equipment, hygienic materials and medicine, compounded by the destruction of infrastructure, has shattered Gaza’s health sector. Equipment such as hospital beds is lacking, with only 2000 beds, with available ones amounting to only 200 beds. Another alarming example is ventilators; there are only 62 ventilators for a population that reaches 1.9 million, with a third already in use. 

The spread of the virus in Gaza will worsen an already dire situation. As of 8 April, 13 people have been diagnosed. However, as testing kits in Gaza have completely run out, the real figure may be higher.

While the 2019 Gaza measles outbreak was fairly quickly contained, Gaza’s health sector offers little cause for confidence in the case of Covid-19.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, Gaza companies have produced protective suits and masks, selling them in the West Bank and Israel. With travel via Erez Crossing heavily restricted, manufacturers and suppliers are less able to collect on existing debts.
Although the number of COVID-19 patients is decreasing, Gaza is already suffering from a very harsh economic crisis and the coronavirus has only made it worse.
Power and fuel shortages lead to total paralysis of hospitals, sometimes stopping their work for days. 95% of all hospital beds in Gaza’s 32 hospitals are occupied.
“The besieged Gaza Strip has run out of Coronavirus testing kits, Palestinian health authorities have warned, further harming the coastal enclave’s attempts to shield itself from a widespread outbreak”.
“Farmers working in agricultural lands near the fence told Gisha that they fear the strong winds in the area yesterday carried the herbicidal agents as far as one kilometer into the Strip, potentially damaging large areas of farmland in Gaza”.
73% of Palestinians in Gaza are refugees living in extreme poverty in densely-populated camps. Ali Abu Kheir, resident of Al-Shate`a camp, says: “we can barely afford food, how can we afford hygienic products?!”
“Gaza appears to have kept the new coronavirus under control, confirming just 12 cases so far. But it has put an extra strain on the economy which was already struggling because of the strict blockade by Israel. And farmers there are becoming desperate.”
Gaza's healthcare system has no capacity to deal with the spread of COVID-19. There is an acute shortage in ICU beds, ventilators and PPE.
Israeli structures of dispossession have created a population of refugees. Most of Gaza residents live in cramped refugee camps, each containing more than 100k people in areas as small as 14 km, such as Jabaliya camp. `Social distancing` is impossible.
The siege has devastated Gaza`s economy, with an unemployment rate of over 70% among young people and around 80% of residents rely on humanitarian aid. Almost all pumped water in the Gaza Strip is undrinkable and electricity is provided for only a few hours a day.
Through an imposed land, water and air siege, Israel has control over the imports and exports from and into Gaza. This includes the import of essential material to protect Gaza's inhabitants such as masks and sanitizers and medical equipment needed to treat those infected.