Gaza: Airstrikes turned schools into shelters. Authorities fear Covid will turn them into super-spreader centers

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But this couple lives Gaza and their problems are more important than childcare arrangements. Two days after sending their children to their grandparents’ apartment – which is ideally in the same building as theirs – the worst violence in years broke out on their doorstep between the powerful Israeli military group and the militant group Palestinian Hamas, armed with rockets and mortars.

Musa Abu Askar says he and his wife do not have access to health services, despite their worrying symptoms, and that they are struggling with separation from their children – aged 10, 8 and two twins aged 4 – as Israeli airstrikes delivered nearby.

“I am still sick. I cannot see my children, they are with their grandparents. My wife is also infected and we do not receive any service from the Ministry of Health. We only have medicines”, a- he declared. told CNN by phone from his home.

Rasha Abu Askar can’t help but think about the worst – even though her children are so close, she fears she will never see them again.

“The fear of losing one of your children and the thought of not being by their side during this difficult time is so terrifying. I keep calling them to calm them down and tell them that I am by their side,” he said. she declared.

While death and destruction have taken place on both sides, it is Gaza that is being decimated. According to the IDF, Hamas fired more than 3,750 rockets at Israel, killing twelve people, including two children. According to the Gaza Information Ministry, Israel carried out more than 1,800 airstrikes there, destroying buildings and infrastructure. At least 230 Palestinians, including more than 60 children, have died in the bombing campaign, according to the Hamas-led Gaza health ministry.

On Monday, an airstrike which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said targeted Hamas also damaged a neighboring building of Gaza’s food ministry, smashing its windows and cutting off its electricity. In the building was one of Gaza’s main coronavirus testing centers and laboratories, the ministry said.

On Thursday, the facility was still out of service, according to the Ministry of Health. The ministry’s undersecretary, Dr Yousef Abu Al-Reesh, told CNN earlier that authorities had turned to private labs to process a very limited number of tests available only to people fleeing to Egypt. via the Rafah terminal.

The IDF denies having deliberately targeted the building, and the IDF on Sunday accused Hamas of deliberately setting up its operational centers near civilian populations.

The center was just one of many facilities and services that shut down in Gaza during this latest wave of violence.

A UN report citing data from the Ministry of Health in April showed a 60% increase in active Covid-19 cases in Gaza, although infections appeared to decrease by the end of the month.
A displaced Palestinian woman cleans outside classrooms used to accommodate families who fled their homes to safety at a school in Gaza City on May 18.
Less than 2% of Gaza’s population had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in late April – a stark contrast to Israel, which has outpaced most vaccines in the world, so far inoculating at least one dose to over 60% of its population .

Now, residents of Gaza, authorities, medical staff and humanitarian agencies fear that the enclave will be affected by a third wave of Covid-19, especially in the dozens of schools run by the humanitarian aid agency. United Nations Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), who have been turned into shelters for most of the 72,000 Palestinians who have been displaced by the bombing. The Ministry of Health believes that the wave is already there.

“The third wave of Covid has already started, with 30% of people testing positive,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that more than 100 people were being treated for the disease in intensive care units.

Dr Rami Al-Abadlah, director of the Ministry’s Security and Infection Control Unit, said the health system was under enormous pressure and services were collapsing.

“Things are getting more difficult. Schools are so crowded, there is no social distancing – we are definitely going to face a health disaster. We just are not able to reach everyone who is infected. “, did he declare.

UNRWA says it is struggling to meet the needs of so many while preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are very concerned that the schools turned into UNRWA shelters are becoming super spreaders, given the overcrowding. In 2014, UNRWA schools served as shelters for Palestinian refugees in Gaza who were running for their lives and slept for days or weeks at UNRWA schools because they expected them. schools are safer than their homes, ”UNRWA spokesperson Tamara Alrifai told CNN.

“This time around, the situation is made much more complex by Covid-19 – the high (infection) rates in Gaza and the low vaccination rates,” she said.

Perhaps the only factor preventing an even more serious health crisis is that Gaza’s population is very young.

Displaced Palestinian families seek refuge at a school run by UNRWA in Gaza City on May 18.

UNRWA administered vaccines at several of its centers in Gaza, but has suspended them since the violence erupted.

“My colleagues in Gaza have described a nightmare scenario from day one of the conflict, claiming that the worst thing that can happen is for people whose homes are destroyed rush to our schools in the midst of this pandemic. Unfortunately, this is what happened. ”

In addition to the usual arrangements – food, drinking water, sanitation systems and beds – the agency must now procure sufficient personal protective equipment to keep the shelters safe.

“Such an organization is extremely difficult in the absence of a ceasefire, let alone in the midst of major destruction of buildings, factories and health centers,” Alrifai said.

Mahmoud Saleh, a nurse working at a specialist Covid-19 medical center in Gaza, said they too were suspending vaccinations and testing was almost impossible.

Ensuring that those infected continue to isolate is also a challenge, he said.

“We cannot impose a rule that prevents infected people from leaving their homes. They must flee the ongoing attacks on Gaza and find shelter or a safe place to hide with their families.

Abeer Salman reported from Jerusalem, Ibrahim Dahman from Gaza and Angela Dewan from London.

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