Palestinian volunteers spray disinfectant in al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on 16 March 2020, during a campaign to stem a novel coronavirus outbreak (AFP)
Palestinian refugees sheltered in displacement camps across the occupied Palestinian territories and the besieged Gaza Strip continue to voice deep concern as the tally of the COVID omicron variant in the Palestinian territories has surged to 35.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said one case of the virus was detected in the Gaza Strip. The majority of those who tested positive for the virus had come from outside the Palestinian territories.
Palestinian health authorities reported the first three cases of the new variant on December 23.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the omicron variant was spreading significantly faster than the delta strain.
There are eight refugee camps recognized by UNRWA in the blockaded Gaza Strip, which has a population of approximately 2.1 million people, including some 1.4 million Palestine refugees. For at least the last decade and a half, the socioeconomic situation in Gaza has been in steady decline. A blockade on land, air and sea was imposed by Israel following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The blockade continues to have a devastating effect as people’s movement to and from the Gaza Strip, as well as access to markets, remains severely restricted. The UN Secretary-General has found that the blockade and related restrictions contravene international humanitarian law as they target and impose hardship on the civilian population, effectively penalizing them for acts they have not committed. Years of conflict and blockade have left 80 per cent of the population dependent on international assistance.
More than 871,000 registered Palestinian refugees live in the West Bank, around a quarter of whom live in 19 refugee camps. Most of the others live in West Bank towns and villages. Some camps are located next to major towns and others are in rural areas. While the West Bank has the largest number of recognized Palestine refugee camps in the five UNRWA fields, the largest of them, Balata, has a population similar to that of the smallest camp in Gaza.