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Gaza health sector near collapse by COVID-19

Gaza public health officials are warning that a sharp increase in coronavirus infections in the Palestinian enclave could soon overwhelm its limited medical system as soon as next week.

The Head of Emergency Health at the World Health Organization’s Gaza sub-office, Abdelnaser Soboh, told Reuters that that “within a week, we will become unable to care for critical cases.”

Soboh said the infection rate among Gazans who are being tested is 21%, with a relative increase in carriers over the age of 60.

The densely populated 100km-long (45-mile) coastal territory of 2 million largely impoverished residents is vulnerable to contagions, say experts. According to data released yesterday, 14,768 people had contracted the disease, and there are currently 79 patients in critical condition. 65 Gazans have died of COVID-19, mostly since late August when only 4 people were reported to have been infected.

A member of Gaza’s pandemic task force Abdelraouf Elmanama said that 79 of 100 available ventilators for coronavirus patients are already in use. “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,” he cautioned, adding that the current 0.05% mortality rate among COVID-19 patients could rise.

Dr Fathi Abuwarda, Adviser to the territory’s Minister of Health, told Al Jazeera “We have entered the catastrophe stage and if we continue like this, the healthcare system will collapse.” He was also critical of the Palestinians “lack of commitment” pertaining to the lack of proper hygiene, and wearing of masks or maintenance of social distancing at festive events and anti-Israel protests.

The Islamist Hamas rulers have so far imposed one lockdown on Gaza. They accuse the blockade on the enclave imposed by Israeli and Egypt to prevent the transfer of arms and terror-related materials for having crippled the Gazan economy and undermined its public health apparatus.

Israeli has disputed the allegations. Reuters cited one Jerusalem official as insisting that Israel has facilitated the delivery of 60 ventilators into Gaza, in addition to 9 PCR coronavirus testing devices that increased the volume of testing more than tenfold since the epidemic broke out. This, despite continued rocket fire at Israeli civilians in the south of the country by Islamist terrorists in Gaza.

Meanwhile the situation just across the security barrier in Israel continues to slowly improve, as the country gradually exits its second nationwide lockdown.

In the past 24 hours, there were 497 new diagnoses for a total of 8,904 active coronavirus cases. 7 more Israelis died of the disease, bringing to death toll to 2,818.

Hundreds of thousands of 5th and 6th graders in “green” or “yellow” areas with low morbidity levels returned to class this morning, after the Coronavirus Cabinet approved that and other measures during a long discussion yesterday. An outline proposed by Minister of Education Yoav Galant was fully approved, including the slated partial-return of high school students next Sunday, 29 November; and middle school pupils a week after that on 6 December. The high schoolers are set to learn in classrooms limited to 50% capacity, while continuing remote studies as well. Grades 7-12 will only study in class 2 days a week, while grades 5-6 will meet 3 times per week at schools.

“The morbidity of students in the general sector 28%,” said Minister Galant, while pointing out that infection levels remain higher in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Arab sectors. “The morbidity rate among students in the ultra-Orthodox sector is 13% – which is half the number in the population,” he said, adding that “the highest is in the Arab sector – 56%. About 60% of the patients in the education system are from the Arab sector.”

A new pilot program will be launched in the coming days in as-of-yet to be announced areas, where staff and the student bodies will undergo COVID-19 testing once weekly.

15 malls across Israel will be permitted to open their doors next Wednesday, 2 December for a 10-day period under strict restrictions as part of another cautious re-entry into the economy. According to Minister of Finance Yisrael Katz, the move predates the slated reopening of all malls nationwide by one week. Katz stressed that government assistance “is not a substitute for an open and operating economy.”

The Knesset Economics Committee is now considering the Coronavirus Cabinet’s recommendation, in accordance with analysis from the Ministries of Transportation, Health and National Security, to increase occupancy on buses to 75%.

For the time being, all public gatherings continue to be limited to 10 people inside and 20 outdoors. Celebration of the upcoming week long Hanukah holiday, which begins on 10 December, may be permitted to include two nuclear families rather than restriction to just one’s own, as during observance of the High Holidays this past autumn and Passover last spring.

Health authorities are also working with Christian leaders on policies to curb further spread of the virus during celebration of Christmas, both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority city of Bethlehem.