Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip have increased fears of an outbreak in the besieged enclave. Over the weekend, two Palestinians returning from a trip to Pakistan entered Gaza by way of Egypt and tested positive for coronavirus. The two men were placed in quarantine in the town of Rafah, near the Egyptian border. Among the residents of Gaza, there is a real fear that Israel will use its control of the enclave’s borders to introduce more infected people.
The Israeli blockade on Gaza has already destroyed the territory’s medical infrastructure, and so far, Israel has only allowed 200 test kits for Gaza’s two million residents. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he expects over one million Israelis to be infected with coronavirus, and at least 10,000 to die. As of Tuesday night, Israel has just over 1,900 confirmed cases.
With the global scarcity of items like masks, test kits, and ventilators, it is unlikely that Israel will spare many of these items for the residents of Gaza while they are worried about their own population. Last week, Al Jazeera reported that there are only 62 ventilators in Gaza, and two-thirds of those are already being used by other patients.
Gaza’s shattered economy will hurt even more as authorities have ordered all restaurants and cafes to close. The unemployment rate in Gaza is already around 50 percent, and that number will likely rise as business owners make cuts due to coronavirus shutdowns. Gaza is said to be one of the most densely populated places in the world, making the enclave even more susceptible to a deadly outbreak.
In the West Bank, there are around 60 confirmed cases of coronavirus, most of those in Bethlehem. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh ordered residents of the West Bank not to leave their homes except in case of an emergency. The Israeli military is preparing for a complete shutdown of the West Bank and closure of all military checkpoints.
A Palestinian laborer showing signs and symptoms of coronavirus while working in Israel was taken by Israeli authorities and dropped into the West Bank on Monday. The man took a coronavirus test, which later came back negative. But while awaiting results, his employer contacted the authorities, who took the laborer to the West Bank side of the Beit Sara checkpoint. A witness who found the sick man on the side of the road said, “He had an extremely high fever. He could barely move his body and he was struggling to breathe.”
Israeli prison authorities have announced that Palestinians held at the Megiddo prison in Israel have contracted coronavirus. Families of the Palestinian prisoners are concerned about a large outbreak inside Israel’s prisons due to the poor conditions. Some fear Israel may move infected prisoners into Gaza or the West Bank.
Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.