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Coronavirus: Gaza authorities confirm first two Covid-19 cases

The patients were identified as Palestinians who had travelled to Pakistan and were held in quarantine on their return
Palestinian Muslim man wears makeshift mask as preventive measure against coronavirus during Friday prayer at mosque in Rafah in Gaza Strip (AFP)

Authorities in the besieged Gaza Strip confirmed the first two cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, identifying the individuals as Palestinians who had travelled to Pakistan and were held in quarantine on their return. 

Gaza's Health Ministry said in a statement that "two citizens tested positive (for Covid-19), after they returned from Pakistan", but stressed that neither person left the quarantine facility near the Egyptian border and had not mixed with the wider population, AFP reported.

Health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said the two infected men, aged 30 and 40, were in stable condition. 

Israel has enforced a blockade on Gaza since 2007, when the Hamas movement seized control of the coastal strip following an internal conflict with rival Palestinian party Fatah.

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Given its already difficult humanitarian situation and high population density, an outbreak in the Gaza Strip could prove to be catastrophic, health officials have warned. 

"If the virus enters Gaza and spreads, it will get out of hand," Gaza Ministry of Health spokesman Majdi Thuhair told Middle East Eye earlier this week, noting that a severe shortage of resources and personnel would make it near impossible to handle an outbreak. 

"We do not have enough intensive care units, personnel or quarantine areas," he added.

Anyone returning to the coastal Palestinian territory from abroad is now required to enter into self-quarantine or, if returning from a high-risk country, will be taken to the quarantine centre in Rafah, near the border crossing with Egypt.

With help from the World Health Organisation, the Health Ministry turned a school in Rafah into the quarantine centre, complete with an intensive care unit with 36 beds for infected people and 30 other beds for patients with mild symptoms, Thuhair told MEE. 

Movement in and out of the territory - severely restricted by Israel and Egypt before the pandemic - has tightened in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Authorities in Gaza have said that more than 2,700 Palestinians now are in home isolation, mostly people who had returned from Egypt.