Gaza hospitals ‘days away from being overwhelmed by Covid-19’

A surge in coronavirus infections could overwhelm the Palestinian enclave's meagre medical system by next week

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A sharp rise in coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip could overwhelm the Palestinian enclave's medical system by next week, public health advisers said on Sunday.

Gaza, where the dense and poor population of two million is vulnerable to disease, has logged 14,000 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths, mostly since August.

Seventy-nine of Gaza's 100 ventilators are being used up by Covid-19 patients, said Abdelraouf Elmanama, a microbiologist who is part of the enclave's pandemic task force.

"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 said. The present 0.05 per cent mortality rate among Covid-19 patients could rise, he said.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have so far imposed one lockdown. A long-standing Israeli blockade, which is supported by neighbouring Egypt, has crippled the Gazan economy and undermined its public health apparatus.

Israel says it is trying to keep weapons from reaching Hamas, against which it has fought three wars and whose facilities it struck earlier on Sunday in retaliation for a Palestinian rocket launch against one of its southern cities.

"We are not giving Hamas any 'coronavirus discounts'," Israeli cabinet minister Izhar Shay told Army Radio. "We will continue responding as appropriate."

But, Mr Shay said, Israel was enabling international humanitarian aid to reach Gaza: "This is the level that we can preserve in the coronavirus context."

Abdelnaser Soboh, emergency health lead in the World Health Organisation's Gaza sub-office, cautioned, however, that "within a week, we will become unable to care for critical cases".

The infection rate among those being tested is 21 per cent, with a relative increase in carriers over the age of 60, he said.

"This is a dangerous indicator since most of [those over 60] may need to be hospitalised,” Mr Soboh said.