Gaza nervously waits for the arrival of Corona virus

trudeau corona

Canada and Gaza have both so far been relatively spared by the Corona virus, although health experts say it’s just a matter of time. Canada faces it with a healthy population and a strong medical system. And Prime Minister Trudeau just announced another $1 billion to face the disease. Gaza is another story. After 12 years of blockade, many of Gaza’s 2 million residents suffer from malnutrition and poor health and its medical system already overwhelmed. But its residents face the future with dark humour. Read the first of our 4 reports on Palestine and the COVID-19 outbreak…

Special report from Gaza

by CTIP guest columnist Aziz Abouzayed

Since December 2019, COVID-19 has been causing mayhem around the world, exhausting health professional and taking the lives of hundreds of people every week.

Although Gaza has been spared so far, its population is preparing itself for a new public health struggle on top of already existing ones such as getting essential medical supplies like bandages and clean oxygen tanks for hospitals.

In 2017, the UN predicted that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. With unemployment rates peaking at 69% among the youth, and poverty rates skyrocketing due to the siege enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007, Gaza has long been uninhabitable for many. Gaza’s understaffed and under-supplied hospitals can barely keep up with the demand of a growing population of two million Palestinians. During my last encounter with a hospital, it had no antibiotics or even painkillers to give out to patients who couldn’t afford retail prices in pharmacies -which are much lower than in the west.

 The Israeli siege and the Palestinian Authority’s budget cuts to Gaza, aimed at flushing Hamas out of its de-facto rule in the Strip, are causing severe limitations to both the capacity and effectiveness of Gaza’s hospitals. As a result, Gaza is far from ready to face a new public health challenge in addition to its current miseries.

Palestinians also fear Israel might also use the virus as a pretext for imposing even more restrictions on the movement of Palestinians.  The small number of Palestinians who are allowed to leave Gaza through Israel already have extensive restrictions. They are limited to carry only duffle bags, one smartphone, and one pair of shoes. Everything else is banned citing “security threats”. (Ed note: Gisha reported on Mar 11 that Israel has just imposed such restrictions.)

On Friday, March 6th, 2020, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of national emergency for 30 days. Abbas’s decision resulted in shutting down educational institutions in Gaza and the West Bank, in an effort to contain the spread of the corona virus. However, Hamas, who exclusively control Gaza, initially announced that the geographically isolated Strip should not be included in the emergency state. 



A FB post from Ahmed Alsahi urging the Hamas government in Gaza to call for a school break to protect against Corona virus

Ahmed Alsalhi, an UNRWA-employed teacher of English, objected, calling for a school break for students and teachers to protect them from the contagious epidemic. Alsalhi said in the screenshot above.“A classroom has around 45 pupils, (…) student-student, student-teacher, and teacher-teacher interaction is extensive, students do not wash their hands after going to the toilet, and they have a habit of spitting and other unhealthy practices.” 


Hamas subsequently reversed its decision – schools and universities in Gaza are now closed for a month.

In another FB post, Lana Hijazi, a Palestinian filmmaker, noted “Prior to the corona -situation, some people were already financially challenged, some were scraping livelihood from garbage containers… Cleaning and sanitizing products is not even on their minds. Think about that!!.”

Others in Gaza show dark humour in the face of the arrival of the corona virus to the country as 30 cases were confirmed in the West Bank, and 128 other cases in Israel as of March 11th. 

gaza cafe

Dark humour: The sign at Raba Cafe says : “quarantine zone”

Ibrahim Raba posted a picture of a local cafe in Gaza satirically labelling a portion of it as a “Quarantine Zone”. Corona is also a language pun with Zorona, meaning visit us in Arabic.”

More than ever, people around the world should empathize with the Palestinians in Gaza. European cities are being placed on lockdown, following the footsteps of China, Iran, Korea, and other nations.

While the rest of the world is calling for minimizing travel plans to avoid infection and the spread of the disease, those of us who are in Gaza have no option! We have been under an involuntary “quarantine” for over 12 years!  As those cities and countries are restricted and ghettoized, and their health care systems are stressed and overwhelmed, one can only imagine what the Palestinians go through every single day under apartheid Israel.

If this is not a time for solidarity and compassion with the Palestinian people, I wonder when is? Will Gaza’s siege contribute to keeping out COVID-19 or will we witness a catastrophe where Palestinians have to face another enemy that seeks to destroy their lives and livelihoods?

Guest columnist Aziz Abouzayed is a writer with the Gaza-based We are Not Numbers (WANN) collective


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  1. Before the occupation by Israel, Gaza was part of Egypt. Egypt is not faring well through the Corona epidemic.

    About your malnutrition claim : According to the UN, Gaza is faring much better than its parent country Egypt in terms of nutrition (lower malnutrition rates)
    Gaza do have an adult obesity problem (worse than Canada) I’m not sure we could blame Israel for that.

    1. Thanks Ahik, for your contribution.

      Sometimes I find your comments enlightening, sometimes I think they are very misleading, and I’m afraid deliberately so.

      You know full well that Gaza was not a “part of Egypt” before the Israeli occupation in 67. It came under Egyptian protection in 1948. Many Palestinians fled there for protection in the face of Zionist/Israeli ethnic cleansing. That did not make it “part of Egypt”.

      Israel would like to see Gaza as part of Egypt, because that would reduce by 2 million the number of Palestinians under today’s Israeli control.

      What is the point of comparing Gaza to Egypt today? Egypt is a mess and everyone knows it.

      As for Gaza’s obesity problem (which i don’t have the statistical evidence to challenge), I do know that obesity is often linked to excess sugar in diet. In any event, I didn’t notice lots of obese people on my last two trips there. I did notice a lot of poverty.

      1. Thank you Peter,

        Sometimes I find your comments enlightening, sometimes I think they are very misleading

        Can you back with Information that assertion you made:
        “Many of Gaza’s 2 million residents suffer from malnutrition” ?

        Would you make the same assertion about Egypt?

      2. Hey Ahik,
        Here is one site, FYI

        There are many other sites with good info.

        I assume that, if you were interested, you could also find info about malnutrition in Egypt, Jordan, Syria etc. I don’t think the same is true in Israel, where the GDP/person is much higher and the health system is much better financed. I do know that many Israelis feel that the government of Mr. Netanyahu has been underfunding the health system in recent years and fear that may hurt Israel’s ability to deal with coronavirus.

      3. It’s true, Netanyahu had neglected the health system for many years.
        The health system in Israel is great, mostly thanks to the doctors and nurses many of whom are Israeli Arabs

    2. The link between poverty, malnutrition and obesity has been well known for a half century or more. Arguments such as that are due to either woeful ignorance, wilfull ignorance or an outright attempt to decieve by ignoring that fact. Those who employ are either ignorant and unqualified to comment or willing to decieve (lie) and therefore not worth listening to.

      Whichever ahik is becomes irrelevant.

      Turning down the heat is one thing. Letting such juvenile arguments continue when they are baselessis ludicrous.

      Sisi is a dictator, US puppet and also irrelevant. He’s scum so cleaerly supported by both Israel and the US. With poodles following in line.I guess ahik, we can surmise that Hamas is better than US imposed fictional democracy. Good point.

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