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TWO Gaza Strip residents recently returned from Pakistan have become the enclave’s first people to test positive for Covid-19, the Palestinian Health Ministry announced on Saturday night.
The development added to fears of a coronavirus outbreak in crowded Gaza, where the healthcare system has been stretched by years of conflict and economic blockades by Israel.
The ministry said that the two infected people had been moved into isolation at a hospital in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
More than 1,270 people have been placed in quarantine in hospitals, hotels and schools after crossing into Gaza from Israel and Egypt, the ministry said.
Deputy Health Minister Youssef Abulreesh urged the strip’s nearly two million residents to take precautionary measures and to practise social distancing by staying at home in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.
Restaurants, cafes and reception halls have been ordered to close and mosques must not hold Friday prayers.
Hundreds of Gazans have returned home in the past two weeks, but only 92 people have been checked for Covid-19 due to the territory’s limited testing capacity.
Gaza has been mostly cut off from the world since Israel and Egypt imposed severe restrictions on movement in response to the 2007 seizure of power by Islamist militant group Hamas.
The two countries closed their borders again last week as they struggle to contain the spread of coronavirus, though Gaza residents are still allowed to return home.
Fifty-five cases have been diagnosed in the West Bank, with 17 people recovering, the ministry said.
In 2018, the World Bank said that Gaza’s economy was in “freefall” and called for urgent action by Israel and the international community to avoid its collapse. The territory has 52 per cent unemployment and 50 per cent of its population lives in poverty.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused US help to combat the virus yesterday, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the outbreak could have been caused by the US military.
The move came after the US imposed further economic sanctions last Tuesday on Iran, which is struggling against one of the worst outbreaks of the virus.
The government said yesterday that Iran has recorded 1,685 deaths and 21,638 confirmed cases, but World Health Organisation experts warned that the true toll is almost certainly higher.
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