Children walk back to school in Gaza after five-month shutdown

Palestinian student arrive at a school run by The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip on August 8, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 08 August 2020

Children walk back to school in Gaza after five-month shutdown

  • Gaza, mostly cut off from the world by an Israeli-led blockade, has not recorded any COVID-19 cases in the towns and refugee camps
  • Just 78 infections and one death have been recorded in quarantine centers

JABALIA, Gaza Strip: Hundreds of thousands of children walked through the streets of the Gaza Strip on Saturday to return to classes after five months of shutdown — though authorities said they were ready to close schools again if coronavirus cases spike.
Pupils mingled freely before heading into playgrounds for roll call and filing into classrooms. At one school in the northern Jabalia refugee camp, teachers wearing face masks welcomed children and offered to sanitise their hands.
Gaza, mostly cut off from the world by an Israeli-led blockade, has not recorded any COVID-19 cases in the towns and refugee camps where around two million Palestinians live.
Just 78 infections and one death have been recorded in quarantine centers. But, fearing any outbreak would overwhelm the health system, the territory’s Islamist Hamas-run education ministry shut down schools in March and students completed the remainder of the school year online.
“We want everyone to realize that education amid (the) corona pandemic is different, and things don’t proceed as they normally would,” said Farid Abu-Athra, an education official with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza.
“So far in Gaza the situation is better, and it allows us to open schools normally,” he told Reuters.
Health workers will sanitise Gaza’s 751 schools twice a day, officials said. Children do not have to wear masks but must bring their own lunch and outdoor breaks are banned.
Plans were already in place to halt classes should the virus spread into Gaza’s densely-populated towns, Abu-Athra said.
About 40 km (25 miles) away in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which has reported a spike in COVID-19 cases, high school classes began this week but elementary schools remain closed.
West Bank health officials have reported 94 deaths and 13,600 cases, most of them in the last two months.


Israel returns to virus lockdown as cases mount

Updated 5 min 48 sec ago

Israel returns to virus lockdown as cases mount

  • The three-week lockdownwill include the closure of many businesses, strict limits on public gatherings
  • Israel has reported a total of more than 175,000 cases since the outbreak began, including at least 1,169 deaths

JERUSALEM: Israel is set to go back into a full lockdown later Friday to try to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has steadily worsened for months as its government has been plagued by indecision and infighting.
The three-week lockdown beginning at 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) will include the closure of many businesses, strict limits on public gatherings, and will largely confine people to within a kilometer (0.6 miles) of their homes. The closures coincide with the Jewish High Holidays, when people typically visit their families and gather for large prayer services.
In an address late Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that even stricter measures may be needed to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. There are currently more than 46,000 active cases, with at least 577 hospitalized in serious condition.
“It could be that we will have no choice but to make the directives more stringent,” Netanyahu said. “I will not impose a lockdown on the citizens of Israel for no reason, and I will not hesitate to add further restrictions if it is necessary.”
Israel has reported a total of more than 175,000 cases since the outbreak began, including at least 1,169 deaths. It is now reporting around 5,000 new cases a day, one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world.
Israel was among the first countries to impose sweeping lockdowns this spring, sealing its borders and forcing most businesses to close. That succeeded in bringing the number of new cases to only a few dozen per day in May.
But then the economy abruptly reopened, and a new government was sworn in that was paralyzed by infighting. In recent months authorities have announced various restrictions only to see them ignored or reversed even as new cases soared to record levels.
The occupied West Bank has followed a similar trajectory, with a spring lockdown largely containing its outbreak followed by a rise of cases that forced the Palestinian Authority to impose a 10-day lockdown in July. The PA has reported more than 30,000 cases in the West Bank and around 240 deaths.
The Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, was initially insulated from the pandemic. But authorities detected community spread last month, and there are now more than 1,700 active cases in the impoverished territory of 2 million, straining its already fragile health system. At least 16 people have died.
In Israel, the government has come under withering criticism for its response to the virus and the economic crisis triggered by the earlier lockdown. Netanyahu, who is also on trial for corruption, has been the target of weekly protests outside his official residence. Israel’s insular ultra-Orthodox community, which has a high rate of infection, has also been up in arms about the restrictions, especially those targeting religious gatherings.
In Tel Aviv, hundreds of people protested the renewed lockdown on Thursday, including doctors and scientists who said it would be ineffective.
Dr. Amir Shahar, head of an emergency department in the city of Netanya and one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the lockdown is “disastrous” and would do “more harm than good.”