Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as Covid-19 cases spike during Ramadan

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GAZA/JERUSALEM (REUTERS) – The sick and dying are rapidly pushing Gaza’s hospitals close to capacity amid a surge in Covid-19 cases in the impoverished Palestinian territory, health officials said.

Palestinians fear that a combination of poverty, medical shortages, vaccine scepticism, poor Covid-19 data and mass gatherings during Ramadan could accelerate the increase, which began before the start of the Muslim holy month on April 13.

Gaza health officials said around 70 per cent of intensive care unit beds were occupied, up from 37 per cent at the end of March.

There were 86 deaths over the past six days, an increase of 43 per cent over the week before.

“The hospitals are almost at full capacity. They’re not quite there yet, but severe and critical cases have increased significantly in the last three weeks, which is a concern,” said Dr Ayadil Saparbekov, head of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Team in the Palestinian Territories.

Gaza’s daily positivity rate reached as high as 43 per cent this week, although Dr Saparbekov said that number could be inflated because a shortage of tests meant they were mostly given to people already showing symptoms.

Dr Saparbekov also said Gaza does not have the capacity to identify highly infectious Covid-19 variants when testing, meaning there is little data on them.

‘No truce’

Graveyards are also feeling the strain. In Gaza City, gravedigger Mohammad al-Haresh told Reuters he had been burying up to 10 Covid-19 victims per day, up from one or two a month ago.

“Wartime was difficult, but the coronavirus has been much harder for us,” said Mr Haresh, who dug graves throughout the 2014 Israel-Gaza war.

“In war, we would dig graves or bury the dead during a truce or ceasefire. With the coronavirus, there is no truce.”

Densely populated and home to two million Palestinians, Gaza has for years had limited access to the outside world because of a blockade led by Israel and supported by Egypt.

Both countries cite security concerns over Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the