Medical authorities in the besieged Gaza Strip have reported the Palestinian enclave’s first novel coronavirus death, amid a drastic increase in the number of infections in recent days plus critical shortages of drugs, protective equipment, testing materials and ventilators in hospitals.
“Fadila Muhammad Abu Raida, 77, from the Khan Younis governorate, died in isolation in hospital at the Rafah crossing due to her infection with coronavirus,” the Health Ministry in Gaza said in a statement on Saturday.
The ministry added that the woman had entered the Gaza Strip via the Egyptian border on May 19, and had been kept in quarantine since. She reportedly suffered from a prior chronic illness.
A wave of coronavirus infections among residents returning to Gaza has more than doubled the number of cases in the coastal sliver in recent days, raising fears of a bigger outbreak.
The impoverished enclave had managed to limit the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to no more than 20, with its borders with both occupied territories and Egypt closed to prevent the spread of the respiratory 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 the Israeli-occupied land.
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 on Thursday that those infected had mingled with other returning residents, including in the quarantine centers.
Authorities were verifying whether any had met with people from inside Gaza before entering quarantine, he added.
In recent weeks, preventive measures in the enclave had been relaxed, with cafes and restaurants allowed to reopen.
Khalil al-Hayya, a senior official with the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, told a press conference on Thursday that authorities were considering imposing a lockdown.
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 enclave under Israeli blockade since 2007.