Palestinian health workers wearing protective face masks in the courtyard of a UNRWA school at al-Shati refugee camp in besieged Gaza on March 18, 2020. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Acting Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Christian Saunders, has reassured Palestinian refugees that serious measures will be taken in response to the growing threats of coronavirus.
“I would like to reassure you at this very challenging time that the Agency is being responsive and proactive to the evolving challenges of coronavirus (COVID-19)”, said Saunders in an open letter to the Palestinian refugee community. “I am overseeing and coordinating UNRWA’s preparations and response and we are meeting daily, sometimes multiple times every day when the situation warrants.”
Saunders also said an emergency task force has been established to discuss the planning, management and communication of UNRWA response, in cooperation with all Directors in UNRWA’s fields and programs.
“I appeal to you all to remember that our behavior at this time, as individuals, families and communities, will directly affect the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must take all possible steps to maintain personal hygiene, with a focus on handwashing and maintaining a distance from each other. This means avoiding spaces where people assemble, and postponing any family gatherings”, the letter read.
“We owe it to each other and particularly to those most vulnerable to the effects of the virus - older individuals or those with an existing medical condition – to follow these practices unfailingly. In addition, each of us must act responsibly and take immediate action if we experience flu-like symptoms, particularly a persistent cough and a fever”, added Saunders.
He said UNRWA is in close contact with host authorities, the WHO and other key actors involved in battle against coronavirus to try to secure additional resources to meet the needs of Palestine refugees at this difficult time.
“Camp Services Offices remain open to continue their coordination work with the camp committees and to help mitigate the impact of any movement restrictions. The relief and microfinance services will similarly remain active, unless government restrictions require otherwise, although it is likely that services provided will be impacted. Cash assistance for those eligible under the Social Safety Net Program (SSNP) and Emergency Cash Assistance will continue”, added the letter.
“To all of you, your families and loved ones, stay safe and healthy during this worrying time. I pray that all of us get through this crisis together as we have got through many other crises in the past”, said Saunders.
The United Nations Secretary General stated last week that COVID-19 represents “the biggest challenge” to the UN in its history. The World Health Organization (WHO) also declared it a pandemic and expects the situation to get worse before it gets better.