GAZA CITY uniquely shielded, yet very vulnerable to the disease.

Gazans may be trying to make light of coronavirus on social media, comparing lockdowns to the Israeli blockade, but fears are growing of a disastrous outbreak in the Palestinian territory.

With movements in and out of the territory severely restricted since long before the pandemic emerged, the Gaza Strip is perhaps one of the few places on earth with a chance of staying virus-free.

But experts warn that the crippling blockade and high poverty rates, along with a densely-packed population and weak health system, creates perfect conditions for a rapid outbreak, with one comparing the risk of transmission to that on a cruise ship.

In her small kitchenette in Gaza City, 80-year-old  Mariam aI-Khatib stacked away cleaning products and tinned goods. She said that despite living through six wars, she was terrified on COVID-19.

''Everyone is afraid. This is more important than a war. Nothing like this has happened since the day I was born,'' she said.

''If corona arrives in Gaza, many people will die. There is no treatment except to pray to God.'' Israel has enforced its blockade since 2007, when the Islamist group Hamas seized control of Gaza.

It argues the measures are necessary to isolate Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by most Western countries.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

Critics say the blockade punishes and impoverishes all of Gaza's residents and feeds radicalism. Gaza's only other border, with Egypt to the south, has been closed for much of the past decade.

It has been partly re-opened in the past two-years, but crossings into Egypt are limited as reaching Cairo and other cities require an arduous journey through the restive Sinai region. [AFP]


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