In crowded Gaza, public embraces mask-wearing to fight COVID-19

FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian man with his children wearing protective face masks rides his motorcycle by police officers amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in the northern Gaza Strip September 22, 2020. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

October 1, 2020

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – The coronavirus may have been slow to reach the sealed-off Gaza Strip, but Palestinians in the densely populated enclave have been quick to embrace mask-wearing to try to contain its spread.

Five weeks into an outbreak of COVID-19 among the general population in the territory, restaurants, many shops, schools, mosques and other public facilities remain closed, and a night-time curfew is in effect.

It is rare to see anyone without a mask outdoors, with the coronavirus death toll at 20 and nearly 3,000 cases reported since infections spread beyond border quarantine facilities on Aug. 24.

Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions along the frontier with Gaza, where two million people live under the rule of the Islamist Hamas group.

Tariq Zaanin, 35, from the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, said Gazans had thought their hated isolation from the outside world would at least keep them safe from the global pandemic.

“Today it has spread in your neighbourhood, hitting friends and relatives. So people are now more cautious because they are afraid for themselves and for those they care about,” he said.

Zaanin, a hairdresser, got married on Sept. 22 but social distancing meant cancelling a large wedding dinner.

“Some may say it saved us money, but it took away our joy,” he said.

International health officials caution that a wider COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza would be disastrous, given its under-developed health system and a chronic shortage of medical supplies.

Gaza’s security forces enforce a ban on beach-going, a popular activity in the enclave, where frequent power cuts make cooling off that much harder.

Police man checkpoints, inspecting vehicles to ensure drivers and passengers wear masks.

Eyad Al-Bozom, a Gaza interior ministry spokesman, said people who violate health regulations or the curfew can be fined or detained.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)

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