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Qatar announces $150 million aid package to help Gaza fight coronavirus

Hamas has confirmed two Covid-19 cases in the Gaza Strip [AFP]

Date of publication: 23 March, 2020

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Qatar has earmarked some of the funds to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, which the UN has warned could be disastrous in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Qatar has directed $150 million in humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip, including financial aid to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The funds will be sent to Gaza over a period of six months and will also include support for United Nations humanitarian programmes, the official Qatar News Agency reported.

Gaza authorities on Sunday confirmed the blockaded strip's first two cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The two who tested positive had been held in quarantine since their return from Pakistan and had not interacted with the wider population, the health ministry said.

More than 2,700 others are in home isolation, most of them after returning from Egypt, authorities have said.

'A disaster of gigantic proportions'

The United Nations has warned that a COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza could be disastrous, given the high poverty rates and weak health system in the coastal strip under Israeli blockade since 2007.

Israel argues the measures are necessary to isolate Hamas, an Islamist movement considered a terrorist organisation by most Western countries. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Gaza has only 60 intensive care (ICU) beds for its two million people and not all are operational due to staff shortages, The head of the World Health Organisation's Palestinian office, Gerald Rockenschaub, told AFP earlier this week.

In response to the pandemic, Israel has announced an increased supply of medical equipment to Gaza, including hundreds of COVID-19 test kits transferred this week.

Hamas is also working to build up to 1,000 new isolation rooms near the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

The Gaza director of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, Matthias Schmale, told AFP this week that it would be "an illusion to think you can manage [an epidemic] in a closed-off space like this".

"Everything I am hearing is if the outbreak reaches the magnitude where you need more than 60 ICU beds to treat, it will become increasingly difficult and could well turn into a disaster of gigantic proportions," he said.

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