According to a study conducted by the UK-based University of Bath and the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, in cooperation with IOD PARC consulting organization, Palestinians are aware of the risks and understand the importance of public health measures to reduce the number of infections, but many perceive the preventative measures as more challenging than the disease itself.
The study, whose result was published on Wednesday, found that there has often been “insufficient support to enable individuals to self-isolate.”
Over 70 people from various locations in Gaza took part in the study, Al Jazeera cited Mohammed al-Rozzi, a research fellow from the University of Bath and member of the research team, as saying.
Israel’s 13-year siege of Gaza is “the dominant factor in the worsening humanitarian situation…[resulting in] the ill-preparedness of the local healthcare system, economy and communities to cope,” the study said.
“Israel’s blockade has devastated the economy in Gaza, and this is having a major impact on the ability of people to comply with lockdown measures when doing so means losing their already limited sources of income,” said lead researcher Caitlin Procter from the European University Institute in Florence.
“Many do not seek medical treatment for other health conditions, driven by fear of being infected by COVID, and the severe loss of income that a diagnosis would incur. For the same reason, some healthcare workers were reluctant to treat COVID patients, and many individuals with symptoms do not go for testing.”
The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli land, air and sea blockade since June 2007. The crippling blockade has caused a sharp decline in the standard of living.
In addition to the ongoing blockade, al-Rozzi cited high unemployment rates and UN funding cuts as among other factors contributing to Gaza’s moribund economy.
“All of these factors have been affecting the economic situation of the population. The outbreak of the pandemic and the rules of ‘staying at home’ leave many, including day laborers, unable to provide for their families,” al-Rozzi said.
Researchers said effective social-distancing measures and quarantine procedures have been extremely challenging to implement amid the deteriorating economic situation in Gaza.
More than 51,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 522 deaths from COVID-19 have been registered in Gaza, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) estimates from January 31.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees has warned that the health system in Gaza could collapse if the number of cases continues to increase.
International rights groups and the United Nations have urged Israel, which began its coronavirus inoculation drive on December 19, to ensure coronavirus vaccine doses for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Al-Rozzi said international actors and the WHO should campaign to make the inoculation accessible to the Palestinians.
“The pandemic clearly shows us how vulnerable the public health system is. The work of local and international actors is critical here.”