Gaza reports 1st virus-related death amid fears of outbreak

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – The crowded Gaza Strip registered its first coronavirus death on Saturday, officials said, amid fears that an outbreak could paralyze the territory's already overburdened health system.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said the deceased was a 77-year-old woman who had underlying health problems and was placed in a special field hospital near the Rafah border crossing point upon arriving from Egypt.

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Gaza officials, led by the militant group Hamas, reported 35 confirmed cases this week, bringing the total to 55. All those infected are in designated quarantine and isolation facilities that receive returnees from abroad. There were no reports of community transmission of the virus.

The health system in Gaza is eroding under the weight of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, an internal division of Palestine and repeated wars and skirmishes between Israel and Palestinian militant groups.

With 2 million people, the Gaza Strip has just over 60 ventilators and a chronic shortage of medicines.

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Since mid-March, Hamas has imposed mandatory quarantine in hotels, clinics and schools for all residents returning via Israel and Egypt. With the recent increase in cases, Hamas has said it is closing Gaza's borders for all arrivals by the end of June.

But on Friday, mosques were reopened for midday prayers across the Gaza Strip, with worshipers bringing their own prayer mats, wearing masks, maintaining social distance and receiving hand sanitizer. Officials say the partial reopening of mosques after nearly two months of closure came after relative success in keeping the virus under control and preventing an outbreak.

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Schools and wedding halls remained closed in Gaza. The Hamas Interior Ministry said public and amusement parks cannot open during Eid al-Fitr, an important holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Sunday.

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