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Gaza healthcare system could collapse 'within a week' as coronavirus cases surge

Seventy-nine of the strip's 100 ventilators are in use, according a health official [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 November, 2020

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A WHO official said that Gaza's hospital would be unable to care for critical cases 'within a week'.

A surge in coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip could cause the coastal enclave's feeble healthcare system to collapse, public health advisers warned on Sunday, amid the latest round of fire between Israel and Hamas.

"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," Abdelraouf Elmanama, a member of Gaza’s pandemic task force, told Reuters.

So far, 79 out of 100 ventilators for Covid-19 patients are in use, Elmanama said. He predicted a likely rise in Gaza's mortality rate of 0.05 percent.

His statements were echoed by Abdelnaser Soboh, the head of emergency health in the World Health Organisation's Gaza sub-office, who said the diminishing capacity meant that "within a week, we will unable to care for critical cases".

The current infection rate among those tested stood at 21 percent and cases among those over 60 were rising, he added.

The densely populated strip has logged nearly 15,000 Covid-19 cases and 65 deaths, most of them since August.

Hamas, the Islamist rulers in charge of the strip, have imposed only one lockdown. A 14-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt has already crippled the Gazan economy and weakened its public health infrastructure.

Israel claims the blockade is necessary to cut off Hamas arms supplies, against whom it has fought three wars and several skirmishes since the movement won an election and took control of Gaza in 2007. NGOs say the siege has come at a devastating humanitarian cost.

On Sunday, Israel announced it had struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response to a rocket attack from the Palestinian territory the evening before.

Exactly a week ago, two rockets from the coastal strip landed in Israeli territory, with Israel firing into Gaza with fighter planes, helicopters and tanks, hitting what the army said were Hamas targets.

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

"We will continue responding as appropriate," the minister added.

Gaza, which his home to 2 million people, has an unemployment rate of over 50 percent. Coronavirus-related impacts have led authorities to slash public sector salaries.

A UN agency which supports Palestinian refugees last week warned the financial crisis it faced could lead to "disaster" in Gaza, as well as in Lebanon, home to nearly 200,000 Palestinian refugees.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), for Palestinian refugees, has been hit by a $70 million funding shortfall, jeopardising the schools and health services it runs as wealth as other humanitarian aid.

"It is in the interest of no one to see schools suddenly suspended... health services being suspended (in Gaza), at a time when people are hit by the (coronavirus) pandemic," the agency's chief Philippe Lazzarini told AFP

Read more: UN agency chief fears 'disaster' in Gaza as funding runs dry

Lazzarini was appointed to head the agency in March, after a predecessor was forced to resign late last year amid accusations of mismanagement that led key donors to cut funds.

The developments only added to the agency's financial woes, coming after US President Donald Trump ended US contributions to UNRWA in 2018.

Washington had until then been providing the agency with more than $300 million a year.

Around 40 countries initially helped fill the gap, but contributions have since diminished as the pandemic takes its financial toll on donor countries.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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