Gaza reported its first cases of COVID-19 in the general population on Monday, as authorities confirmed four infections at a refugee camp and security forces declared a full lockdown for 48 hours.
The four cases were from a single family in a camp in central Gaza, a government spokesman said, amid concern over Gaza’s potentially disastrous combination of poverty, densely populated refugee camps and limited hospital capacity.
“A full curfew will be imposed starting tonight and in all of the Gaza Strip,” said Salama Marouf, chairman of the government’s media office. “It will include official, private and educational facilities as well as closing mosques, markets, wedding halls and sport clubs.”
The statement continued: “We are now working to determine the causes of infection and the map of those who made contact with the infected cases.”
Ahead of the announcement Gaza’s security forces began to seal off entrances to cities across Gaza, according to a drill rehearsed in July.
As rumors spread, people raced to supermarkets to stock up on food and hygiene supplies.
Until Monday the 360 square-kilometer coastal strip, home to 2 million Palestinians, had reported no infections outside quarantine centers.
Those centers had recorded one death and 109 infections.
People arriving in Gaza had to spend 21 days in the centers on orders from Hamas, the armed Islamist group that has controlled Gaza for over a decade.
The 40-km-long coastal strip is flanked by Israel to the north and east and by Egypt along its southern border. Both countries have imposed restrictions on movements, citing security concerns over Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.
As a result, most Gazans have had little access to the outside world for years due to the blockade, which many compared to a permanent lockdown.
“The virus will eventually get (in) ... you can’t isolate Gaza from the world forever,” Abdelnaser Soboh, director of the World Health Organization’s Gaza office, said in July.