Gazans fear spread of Omicron variant with weak health sector

Gazans fear spread of Omicron variant with weak health sector
3 min read
28 December, 2021
Gazans say their healthcare system won't be able to cope with the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the first case of which was recorded on Sunday
Gazans have expressed their fear of the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant among the population in light of the deterioration in the health sector [Getty]

Gaza residents have told The New Arab that they fear the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, given the enclave's dilapidated health sector.

The Hamas-run health ministry said Sunday that it had identified Gaza's first Omicron case.

Hady Al-Shafay, a resident of Al-Shati refugee camp in the west of Gaza City, told The New Arab that he thought the discovery of the Omicron case in the densely populated enclave meant that many more people could have been infected by the highly transmissible coronavirus variant.

The health system in Gaza - a small, densely-populated enclave that has been under a near-constant siege by its Israeli and Egyptian neighbours since 2007 - "cannot fight the new variant with lack of medical equipment and staff as well as medicine", Al-Shafay, a 55-year-old father of eight said.

Huda Jawdat, a 38-year-old cancer patient from Gaza City, told The New Arab that she was scared to leave her home after she heard about the first Omicron case, because her illness has weakened her immune system.

"I stayed at home for several months to avoid getting Covid-19, as we do not have a strong health sector that could protect us from death," Jawdat said, her voice breaking.

"The local authorities do not have a magic wand to curb the new variant in this complicated political situation that affects all aspects of life in Gaza." 

Jawdat said she would stay at home until the spread of the variant abates.

Ibrahim Shomar, a merchant from the town of Beit Lahia, told The New Arab that he is following up on the health ministry's announcement to see if it would recommend stricter measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, as were imposed at the start of the outbreak in the Palestinian enclave.

Shomar said the months-long closures imposed to stop the spread of Covid-19 were a big blow to his business.

Ashraf al-Qidra, the health ministry spokesman, told The New Arab that his ministry sent several samples to the West Bank to test for Omicron.

"After we get the results of test samples, we will recommend imposing gradually preventive measures on the territory to curb the new variant," Al-Qidra said.

But Gaza's interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Buzzom told The New Arab that the government will not tighten restrictions yet.

Al-Buzzom said Palestinians should adhere to existing instructions to protect themselves and their families from contracting the virus.

He called on Gazans to get vaccinated, wear masks, and practice social distancing. 

The health ministry has dedicated three hospitals to coronavirus patient care, in the cities of Gaza, Rafah, and Khan Younis.