Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

Palestinian youth tell the human stories behind the numbers in the news

COVID diary: Dream, plan, then life turns upside down

Noor Yacoubi | 01-11-2020

Gaza is "the Dream Graveyard." It is nearly impossible for us to achieve our dreams, plan for our future or even feel certain of a few happy moments tomorrow. To protect ourselves from constant disappointment, we avoid thinking about what might happen next.

On the day the first cases of COVID infection were identified inside Gaza, outside of quarantine, I was at home celebrating my birthday with my friends. It was our first time together since finishing college. Life in Gaza had begun returning to normal after the first scare (when travelers returning to Gaza were found to have the virus and quickly isolated) and we hoped that our graduation ceremony would take place in October. We talked excitedly about being back on campus, wearing our black graduation gowns and taking so many pictures.

But it was not to be. A few hours later, a state of emergency was declared, a strict curfew was imposed, and our dreams of a graduation ceremony ended.

Something always seems to get in the way of our dreams: War. Closed borders. An Israeli attack. Internal conflict. We take a few steps forward, then are forced to an abrupt halt, even kicked five steps back. We know COVID-19 has already caused so much heartbreak worldwide, and we also know that Gaza is so very vulnerable.

For 14 years, the Israeli blockade has prevented medicine, medical equipment and other supplies from entering the Gaza Strip—at all, or at least in adequate quantities. The Ministry of Health in Gaza estimates that the area’s hospitals have just under half of the essential drugs they need.

The blockade has also blocked doctors and nurses from completing the research and training outside of Gaza that they need to stay current in their fields. As a result, Gaza’s health-care infrastructure is totally insufficient to confront COVID-19. We have 34 hospitals with 3,049 beds, but only about 800 of them are available at any one time. Among the meager 93 ventilators, nearly 70 are in use by other patients.

Life in Gaza too often turns upside down

As of this writing, there have been 5,793 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gaza and 31 deaths. With 2.1 million people living in a territory of just 365 square kilometers, Gaza’s health-care system cannot handle more than 2,000 COVID hospitalizations at a time, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. And no more than 1,500-2,000 samples can be tested per day, due to a lack of laboratory kits. In fact, only about five of the PCR devices needed to run these tests are available.

"Gaza has entered a critical time for fighting the virus," said Tawfeeq Abu Naeem, deputy minister of the interior, told local media.

A night-time curfew was imposed in September and still is in force in some areas, with cement roadblocks between crossroads and main roads to prevent people from walking and driving between provinces. Unfortunately, Gazans have a limited understanding of COVID-19, and many don’t know how serious the situation is. We still find people gathering and children playing indoors, even as the number of cases increases every day.

The situation here is complex. Combine a strict curfew with daily electricity cuts lasting 10-12 hours and small homes crowded inside and up against each other, and the quarantine becomes suffocating. It can’t last—especially since it has dire economic consequences. Thousands of drivers, traders and day laborers lost their main sources of income. Lost work means lost taxes, which translates into the government's inability to supply poor families with their basic needs.

Even before COVID-19, economic conditions had put us close to the breaking point. Now we’ve been stretched even further. The Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions announced this week that the unemployment rate has hit 70%. As a new graduate, I know I’ll be among the last to be hired. Before COVID-19 came to Gaza, I had been looking for a job and was somewhat optimistic. Now I am losing hope.

My personal life is also on pause. I am supposed to be preparing for my wedding party. It might still happen, since I still have much to prepare, but since the outbreak, bridal shops, wedding venues and streets are all closed. And then, my fiance's sister and her husband got COVID-19 and are currently in the hospital in isolation! I have no idea when life might return to normal.

This is Gaza! You plan, you dream, you think of the next day. Nevertheless, within just a few hours, everything may turn upside down.

Posted: October 31, 2020

Mentor: Kate Casa

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