12-hour blackouts, water plant shut down, and 14 high-rises destroyed in Gaza damage

Palestinians assess the damage of a destroyed building on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, on May 13, 2021. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

The Latest:

  • 332,111 Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19; 317,464 recoveries; 3,669 deaths
  • Of those who tested positive, 197,640 live in the West Bank, 105,630 live in the Gaza Strip and 28,841 live in East Jerusalem
  • 839,059 Israelis tested positive for COVID-19; 831,888 recoveries; 6,379 deaths

*Palestinian figures are as of Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Ordinarily, we dedicate this newsletter to the latest updates around the pandemic with an emphasis on distilling data to our readers. This week, because Israel is engaged in the most intense escalation across the occupied Palestinian territory in seven years, we’re shifting gears but still using our same approach. 

Before we step away from COVID-19, let’s run down the numbers we do have. According to the UN’s humanitarian coordinator, OCHA, laboratory tests, and vaccinations have “drastically reduced” over the past few days. Although we have not been able to confirm it at the time of publication, we suspect that testing and vaccinations have completely shut down. The Palestinian Ministry of Health has not updated its number of new cases since Tuesday, and the World Health Organization’s live dashboard shows May 9, 2021, as the most recent date of statistics. 

As a result, we have only a couple of days’ worth of new confirmed cases at our disposal to analyze, and we suspect those numbers (1,500 new cases for this week) only reflect changes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and data from Gaza over the weekend before this escalation mounted. 

For the last few weeks, over 60% of new cases are in Gaza. With scores relocating to shelter with family, we’re anticipating any degree of social distancing has been abandoned. 

Heavy smoke and fire rise from Al-Sharouk tower as it collapses after being hit by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on May 12, 2021. (Photo: Bashar Taleb/APA Images)

Do Palestinians have the resources to treat COVID-19 after intense destruction?

In the last few days, “some primary health-care clinics were severely or partially damaged by heavy shelling,” but we don’t know where it is located in Gaza, or the extent of the devastation, according to the UN.  

Compounding the already impacted health system, the Erez and Kerem Shalom checkpoints are currently closed, and no humanitarian workers or medical equipment can enter or exit. The Palestinian Authority already purchased 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer and Sputnik V vaccines for $27.5 million. We don’t know the shipment schedule, but obviously, no new doses can enter Gaza until a ceasefire is declared.

If you recall from the last few months, we’ve reported that COVID-treating hospitals in Gaza were already reaching capacity. Health officials decided early on to sequester coronavirus patients from others, dedicating entire facilities to treating patients with the respiratory disease, including one of Gaza’s most equipped medical centers, the European hospital. This measure bolstered efforts to contain and quarantine patients with active illnesses. 

As of last week, 43% of regular hospital beds were full, and 45% of ICU beds, according to the WHO’s latest situation report.  

Palestinians inspect a destroyed building targeted in an Israeli airstrike amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 13, 2021. (Photo: Anas al-Sharif/APA Images)

The big picture: Since Monday, Israeli military officials have stated they hit 650 targets in Gaza, and Hamas fired 1,500 rockets into Israel, including a salvo of nearly 500 in the early morning hours on Thursday. This escalation is the most severe since the 2014 war when militant groups in Gaza fired 4,562 rockets towards Israel over the course of 51 days. As of Thursday evening, Hamas has already fired more than 30% of the total munitions fired during the 2014 war, including sites deep into Israel causing planes to be grounded. 

Similarly, Israel struck more than 5,000 sites in Gaza in 2014. Again, as of last night, Israeli forces have already targeted over 13% of the total number of sites it hit seven years ago during the two-month war, including a number of pivotal locations such as 14 residential high-rise towers. While the figures are still coming in, this rate of damage exceeds that of the first few days of the last major escalation. 

The government media office in Gaza said (as reported by OCHA) on Thursday that more than 500 housing units were destroyed in airstrikes, and another 2,100 were damaged; 23 schools have been destroyed on damaged; the desalination plant has been shut down since Monday, cutting off water access to over 10% of the population. Of those who lost piped water, half live in Gaza City.

Gaza’s power plant is still operational, but only able to supply power for half of the day. Rolling blackouts are reaching up to 12 hours a day. 


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