Coronavirus: first two cases diagnosed in Gaza Strip

The Palestinian Health Ministry has announced the first two cases of the coronavirus in the Gaza Strip

Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus, at the main market in Gaza City, Thursday, March 19, 2020. The Middle East has some 20,000 cases of the virus, with most cases in Iran or linked to travel from Iran. The vast majority of people recover from COVID-19. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
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The Palestinian Health Ministry announced early on Sunday that two residents who returned recently to the Gaza Strip from Pakistan had tested positive for the coronavirus.

The cases are the first to be identified in the enclave, fuelling fears of an outbreak in the overcrowded territory.

Gaza has a stretched health care system after years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, cross-border conflicts with Israel and Palestinian political division.

Hundreds of Gazans have returned home in the past two weeks, but only 92 people have been examined, highlighting the territory’s limited capacity for testing.

Gaza has been mostly cut off from the world as Israel and Egypt imposed severe movement restrictions following the 2007 takeover by Hamas. This is believed to have delayed the arrival of the virus.

Within the past two years, Israel and Egypt have relaxed some travel restrictions on Gaza’s two million residents, but closed their borders again last week as they struggle to contain the coronavirus spreading within their own populations.

Gaza residents are still allowed to return home.


The ministry said the diagnoses were made in two people who returned recently from Pakistan. It said they had been moved to isolation at a hospital in Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip.

More than 1,270 people are in quarantine inside hospitals, hotels and schools after crossing into Gaza from Israel and Egypt, the ministry said.

On Saturday, Hamas’s Interior Ministry shut wedding halls and banned weekly street markets as precautionary measures.

No deaths from the virus have been reported in the Palestinian territories.

In the West Bank, 55 cases have been diagnosed, with 17 recovering, the ministry said. Most cases were in the town of Bethlehem.

The vast majority of infected people recover from the virus. For most, it produces only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But the coronavirus can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, and even death, for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.

A 360-square-kilometre stretch of land, the Gaza Strip is one of the world’s most densely populated areas.

In 2018, the World Bank said its economy was in “free fall” and called for urgent action by Israel and the international community to avoid Gaza’s collapse. Unemployment stands at 52 per cent and half the population lives in poverty.