Before COVID-19 arrived in Palestine, people were already facing huge mental pressures. Already one in four children in Gaza was in need of some sort of psychological support.
People in Gaza experience crushing poverty due to the economic blockade. This is on top of having had three wars in the past decade, and frequently military escalations that cause extreme fear among the population.
On top of these pressures, we now have the COVID-19 pandemic. There are over 600 cases of COVID-19 now in Palestine, with over 50 in the Gaza strip. Thankfully the numbers are still small, although we have tragically experienced our first death in Gaza.
The authorities have taken measures including stopping prayers in mosques, open market gatherings, funerals, and public meetings. Anyone who comes from outside Gaza is put into quarantine for three weeks. So far, this strategy has kept the numbers low.
However, with zero immunity in wider society and without a vaccine or an effective treatment, we’re still very afraid for the future. At the moment we are buying time. The health system in Gaza is very weak. For a population of two million people we only have about 100 ventilators, most of which are already in use in intensive care units. In contrast, Ireland has around 2,000 ventilators.
We also have extremely crowded areas in Gaza. It’s one of the highest density populations in the world, particularly in the refugee camps. We have more than 1.3 million refugees, most of them live in incredibly crowded camps. If COVID-19 breaks out in these camps, it will be a disaster. We are almost on the brink, almost on the edge.