By Adam Rasgon
Severe and critical cases of Covid-19 have hit record highs this week in the blockaded Gaza Strip, a development that health experts attributed to the proliferation of the highly transmissible coronavirus variant first identified in Britain.
Medical officials in the Hamas-run Health Ministry estimated that the variant now accounts for four out of five new cases in Gaza. They detected it in the densely populated territory for the first time in late March.
“We are in a dangerous place,” said Dr. Majdi Dhair, the director of the ministry’s preventive medicine department. “We expect more people to become infected and more people to enter hospitals. We ask God to pull us out of this situation.”
Over the past three weeks, severe cases — typically when a patient’s oxygen level falls to 94 percent or less — have risen to 219 from 58, according to ministry data. Critical cases, which can involve respiratory failure, septic shock or multiple organ dysfunction, jumped to 58 from 17.
On top of that, the ministry said on Monday that about 38 percent of the 4,700 virus test results it had received over the preceding 24 hours were positive — one of the highest rates in the past month.
Dr. Dhair said he believed that hospitals in Gaza were prepared to handle more severe and critical cases, but that they would probably have to postpone some surgical procedures to free up intensive care beds.
Devastated by years of conflict, Gaza’s hospitals were already dealing with challenging circumstances before the first cases of community transmission of the virus were discovered in the territory in August.
Gaza’s population is overwhelmingly young, and less than 1 percent of residents have been vaccinated so far.
The sharp rise in severe and critical cases has come just before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday. Traditionally during Ramadan, many Palestinians in Gaza would gather for large meals after sunset, pack streets in popular commercial districts and crowd into mosques for special evening prayers. But a number of those traditions will be prohibited this year because of the pandemic, the authorities said.
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