As Coronavirus Grips MENA, Palestine Refugee Agency Extends Closure of Gaza Schools

As Coronavirus Grips MENA, Palestine Refugee Agency Extends Closure of Gaza Schools

Palestinian workers assemble face masks at a factory in the West Bank city of Hebron on 14 March. (Mosab Shawer / APA images)

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) has decided to extend the closure of schools until the end of this week over fears of coronavirus propagation.

UNRWA’s media official in Gaza Adnan Abu Hasana said the closure has been maintained following contacts with the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to limit a swift propagation of the epidemic.

He said the Agency will re-evaluate the situation on weekly basis to decide whether to extend the closure of schools or re-open them.

On Thursday, the Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyeh announced a presidential decree issued by PA President Mahmoud Abbas that a state of emergency be put into effect across the occupied territories for one month.

During this time, all schools, universities and other institutions must be closed as a countermeasure against the spread of the coronavirus.

To date there have been no cases of the coronavirus in Gaza, however dozens of cases have been identified in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continues to rise in Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Israel reported 193 confirmed cases on Saturday, while the Palestinian Authority said it had confirmed 38 cases in the West Bank – all in the Bethlehem area except for one case in Tulkarem.

The number of actual cases is likely much higher, as those figures only represent cases of patients who have been tested.

While no cases have yet been confirmed in Gaza, 1,400 people in the besieged territory are reported to be in self-quarantine at home.

Authorities in Gaza have restricted travel from Gaza to urgent humanitarian cases. Travelers entering Gaza via Egypt or Israel are required to enter quarantine at their homes or a quarantine center established in Rafah.

Schools in both the West Bank and Gaza are closed until the end of March.

The World Health Organization says the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is very high.

The epicenter of the disease has moved from East Asia to Europe as the number of confirmed cases outside China has increased 13-fold.

More than 142,000 cases – nearly 5,400 fatal – have been confirmed worldwide.

On Saturday, Spain and France announced measures amounting to a near-total lockdown, with the closure of nonessential businesses including bars and restaurants.

Despite similar measures in Italy over the last few weeks, that country saw its biggest jump of cases on Saturday.

There are 14,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the Middle East and North Africa, causing 627 deaths, the vast majority in Iran.

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