Spike in new coronavirus cases puts Gaza on edge

Palestinian school girls wear face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic in Gaza City, Gaza the impoverished enclave that has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases due to residents returning home from abroad (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED ABED)
Palestinian school girls wear face masks due to the coronavirus pandemic in Gaza City, Gaza the impoverished enclave that has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases due to residents returning home from abroad (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED ABED)

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - A wave of coronavirus infections among residents returning to Gaza has more than doubled the number of cases in the strip in recent days, raising fears of a bigger outbreak.

The impoverished Palestinian enclave had managed to limit the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to no more than 20, with its borders with both Israel and Egypt closed to prevent the spread of disease.

But in recent days, around 1,500 Palestinians who had been stuck in Egypt were allowed to return via the Rafah crossing, while smaller numbers were permitted to enter from Israel.

They were all placed in confinement, but 35 new cases have been confirmed among them, including 25 on Thursday, authorities announced, raising the total number to 55.

Health ministry official Yussef Abu al-Reesh said those infected had mingled with other returning residents, including in the quarantine centres.

Authorities were verifying whether any had met with people from inside Gaza before entering quarantine, he added.

In recent weeks, preventive measures in the strip had been relaxed, with cafes and restaurants allowed to reopen.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior official with Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the enclave, told a press conference Thursday authorities were considering imposing a curfew.

The border with Egypt would be re-sealed until at least the end of June, he added.

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