Israeli Airstrike Cripples Gaza’s Only COVID Center

Vaccination of 3,000 people a day grinds down; 17 hospitals, clinics reportedly damaged by Israeli strikes

The Israel Defense Forces bombarded a street on Monday in Gaza’s Rimal neighborhood that has the only coronavirus center operating in the Strip. The center was vaccinating about 3,000 people a day, doing testing and operating a pharmacy. Following the bombardment of the building near the center, which turned the surrounding area into heaps of ruin, activities to fight the coronavirus in Gaza have essentially been shut down.

A Gazan resident who spoke with Haaretz said that due to the ongoing fighting, the damage to the coronavirus center was received with relative indifference in the Strip, as well as the presence of the virus itself.

“People who fear that an F-16 is going to drop bombs won’t get excited about the coronavirus,” he said, adding that anyone in Gaza can see that no steps are being taken to fight the virus. “Nobody goes around with a mask and people gather at funerals. The fear is that missiles will fall or the ground will shake.”

Figures from the Gazan health authorities and UNRWA show a 40-percent increase in the rate of people testing positive for COVID, based on 211 tests. Medical authorities in Gaza say the disease is spreading more quickly and the literally cratering humanitarian conditions over the past week have only made things worse.

UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Husna said the shutdown of the coronavirus testing lab would make it more difficult to root out the pandemic. So far, only some 39,000 of Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants have been vaccinated.

Reports from Gaza say that the 10 days of fighting with Israel have led to unprecedented devastation there. Alongside the destruction of buildings by IDF bombardment, electricity, water, sewage and health infrastructure have all been damaged. The Health Ministry in Gaza reported damage to some 17 hospitals and clinics in the Strip.

So far, the Health Ministry in Gaza has reported 227 people killed, 64 of them children, and 1,530 wounded.

Abu Husna told Haaretz that more than 50,000 people have left their homes over the past week and taken shelter in UNRWA buildings. The IDF usually avoids attacking UN facilities, and taking shelter there is considered safe. Other assessments put the number of people who have abandoned their homes at tens of thousands more.

Residents of the Strip say people are leaving their homes because of the fear that whole families will be killed, which has happened to 15 families since the outbreak of fighting last week. According to figures collected in the Strip, those nuclear families were completely wiped out in the bombardments, and most of the others killed were relatives. A number of Gazans told Haaretz that parents are handing over their children to neighbors or relatives to ensure the family’s survival.

“It’s a catastrophe by any measure,” Abu Husna said. UNRWA said it has been working to repair the damage from the 2014 Gaza war, in which the IDF attacked the Strip, including with ground forces.

According to the IDF spokesman, the assaults are not aimed at civilian infrastructure and other essential installations, even if they are hit, and the IDF tries to avoid this.