Gaza Officials Warn That Coronavirus Crisis Threatens to Spiral Out of Control

A spokesman for the Gaza Interior Ministry said on Saturday that the lockdown would be extended for another 48 hours after the number of infected people has risen to 182

Authorities in the Gaza Strip are fearful of losing control of the coronavirus pandemic, according to senior officials in Hamas and other Palestinian factions, who warned over the weekend that the crisis is raising the chancess of an escalation with Israel.

This past weekend was to have been critical for Gaza with regard to stabilizing the security situation with Israel and dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, the officials said.

As of the past week, the coronavirus situation has come under control in Gaza and all the infected people were those returning to there via crossings with Egypt and some also from Israel.

Gaza Health Ministry data showed the number of infected people had risen to 182. Of these 36 were identified only in the past 24 hours. Thirty-seven people had returned to Gaza and quarantined immediately at the Rafah crossing.

The infection rate in Gaza led the authorities there to declare a state of emergency. This included a full five-day lockdown of the entire territory, including hermetically sealing areas where infected people were identified, such as the Maghazi refugee camp.

A spokesman for the Gaza Interior Ministry said on Saturday that the lockdown would be extended for another 48 hours and might be extended further if the spread of the virus was not brought under control. Contract tracing had begun and people who were found to have been exposed to the virus were placed in isolation, to avoid a further spread of infection in what is one of the most densely populated places in the world.

The Gaza Health Ministry warned over the weekend that loss of control over the spread of the virus would spell disaster because the health-care system would not be able to deal with a large number of sick and intubated patients. Its figures show there are approximately 120 ventilators in Gaza, some of which are in use by patients with other illnesses. The ministry said the health-care system in Gaza has for months been demanding equipment, including ventilators and corona virus testing kits.

Meanwhile, Hamas warmed that humanitarian conditions in Gaza are worsening due to the lack of progress in talks with Israel over lifting the closure on the territory and a continued maritime blockade, as well as the shutdown of Gaza’s only power station for the past two weeks, which has left the territory with only three to four hours of power each day.

Dr. Husam Adjani, a senior welfare official in Gaza and a senior member of Hamas wrote on Saturday that in 2019, Gaza had a poverty rate of 75 percent, and that this figure had risen due to the coronavirus crisis. Seventy percent of Gaza families report that they do not have a steady food supply.

Hamas held talks over the weekend with the Qatari emissary to Gaza, Mohammad al-Emadi, who has been in Gaza for the past few days. Palestinian reports said that on Saturday afternoon Emadi met with senior Israeli officials at the Erez crossing, then returned to Gaza for talks with Hamas with the aim of toning down the violence along the border and stabilizing the security situation with Israel.

Hamas has so far not released a statement about the outcome of the talks but senior Hamas officials hinted that if Israeli and international responses were not forthcoming in the form of immediate aid to stop the spread of the virus and to provide relief to the population by lifting the closure to allow merchandise into the territory, a worsening of the security situation was only a matter of time.