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Coronavirus: Gaza imposes curfew after detecting first infections outside quarantine facilities

Gaza has been relatively safe from Covid-19 due to the blockade, with all cases before Monday reported in quarantine facilities for incoming travellers
Security forces monitor shoppers queuing for bread in Gaza City after the announcement of the closure of public spaces due to new coronavirus cases late on 24 August 2020 (AFP)

Gaza’s government announced late on Monday that the besieged coastal enclave would go into lockdown for 48 hours, due to the detection of Covid-19 cases outside quarantine facilities for the first time.

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The community transmission constitutes a potentially disastrous development for Gaza’s fragile health system, already on the brink of collapse after 14 years of an Israeli-led blockade and three military operations that targeted medical facilities. 

Previous Covid-19 cases reported in Gaza had been from people arriving from abroad through the Rafah or Erez crossings, government spokesman Salamah Maarouf told reporters at a press conference. 

This time, four cases from one family in the Al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza had tested positive for the highly contagious virus, prompting authorities to declare a full lockdown for two days, Maarouf said. 

“We urge people not to leave their homes for 48 hours and until we announce new guidelines, to protect their health and the safety of our society,” he said.

He said that a full curfew was now in place in all areas of Gaza for 48 hours, beginning on Monday night, including public- and private-sector offices, educational institutions, mosques, wedding venues and sports clubs, while any gatherings were strictly prohibited. 

An interior ministry spokesman, Eyad Elbazam, said that security forces would oversee the implementation of the curfew, effective from 9pm on Monday. 

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The government, run by the Palestinian group Hamas, said that the cases were uncovered after a woman travelled to the West Bank, where she had tested positive.

A health ministry spokesman urged everyone who might have visited a supermarket outside a hospital in central Gaza to quarantine themselves and report to medics immediately.

As rumours spread, people raced to supermarkets to stock up on food and hygiene supplies. Police vehicles toured the streets using loudspeakers to urge Gazans to abide by the curfew.

Gaza, home to over two million inhabitants, had been relatively safe from Covid-19 due to the blockade, with all cases before Monday coming from outside. 

According to the Palestinian health ministry, 113 coronavirus cases have been reported in Gaza so far, with one death and 72 recoveries. 

Severe power shortages

Meanwhile, Gaza, which replies on Israel for most of its fuel needs, is facing severe power shortages, with its only power plant shut down last week after Israel had suspended shipments and closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Last Wednesday, Israel had imposed restrictions on the Palestinian enclave, in what it said was a response to the launching of incendiary balloons that had caused bush fires in southern Israel.

Gazan homes and businesses rely on generators to make up for the lengthy power cuts, increasing the financial pressure on the largely impoverished population.

Officials said the power plant’s closure would cause disruptions at vital facilities such as hospitals, which are also equipped with generators.