The coronavirus pandemic is on the brink of getting completely out of hand in the Palestinian territory of Gaza. Hospitals are not adequately prepared for the increasing number of cases. Meanwhile, the struggling area continues to be severely impacted by the pandemic’s negative economic fallout.
Gaza Needs Help
Gazans are urgently in need of international aid.
“The coming period will be difficult. The number of critical cases is expected to rise due to the lack of medical equipment and shortage of oxygen needed for such cases,” said Rami al-Abadla, director of the Infection Control Department at the General Hospital Administration of the Ministry of Health.
Abadla’s comments come despite the Palestinian Ministry of Health having been able to increase the number of beds specifically set up for COVID-19 patients from 100 to 150 through considerable efforts.
However, these measures are unlikely to be sufficient if the pandemic continues to spread at the same pace as it is now.
Why is Coronavirus Spreading so Rapidly in Gaza?
The intensified spread is aided by extremely inadequate conditions for containing the virus. Almost 2 million people currently live in Gaza’s 360 square kilometer area, resulting in a population density of more than 5,300 inhabitants per square kilometer. In comparison: the EU contains an average of 121 people per square kilometer.
All in all, the circumstances in which Gazans live are severely challenging for limiting the spread of a disease. For instance, a rampant housing shortage and the resulting tight occupancy also provides a perfect breeding ground for the virus and thus an enhanced spread.
Moreover, the economic situation of many Palestinians remains dire. Until recently, the unemployment rate was 49.1 percent. Among young people, it reaches a stunning 70 percent. Around 160,000 jobs have been lost as a result of the pandemic, and the unemployment rate is expected to increase even further.
Underfunding of the UNRWA
Already, around 13,000 Palestinians receive aid from the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA). The agency hence finances more people than any employer. However, the UNRWA is currently massively underfunded itself, particularly since the US withdrew its support. Now, vital services could become unsustainable.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has warned of an “imminent collapse of the health-care system in the Gaza Strip due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” especially in light of the aforementioned UNRWA’s financial deficit.
Gaza’s Case Count
Meanwhile, the number of infections is increasing dramatically. There are currently around 1,800 new cases every day in the autonomous areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In total, more than 75,000 infections and over 650 deaths have already been registered in the Palestinian territories.
In Gaza, 32% of daily tests are positive, while 21,461 cases have been registered since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
If the pace continues, the situation will get out of control.
“In 10 days, the health system will become unable to absorb such a hike in cases, and there might be cases that will not find a place at intensive care units,” said Abdelnaser Soboh, World Health Organization Emergency Aid Coordinator in the Gaza Strip.
Will Gaza Impose a Lockdown?
The government is currently considering a lockdown. However, the economic situation makes this a difficult option. Many families are already doing very poorly. The loss of work due to lockdown is likely to make matters worse. In addition, due to the densely populated residential areas, the virus can continue to spread quickly, even in the event of a lockdown.
The Gaza Strip urgently needs rapid medical aid. The international community has been asked for medical equipment, says Fathi Abuwarda, advisor to the Palestinian minister of health. If this help is not provided, the number of infections and deaths will continue to rise.
At least some help is beginning to arrive. On Thursday, November 3, a delegation of Israeli doctors arrived in Gaza delivering medical equipment, providing free treatment as well as medical training.