Islamic Relief Palestine Child Welfare Worker Mohammed Ismail writes from quarantine in Gaza.
We’re about a week into quarantine here in Gaza and it reminds me of the conflict back in 2014. Yes, there are huge similarities.
There’s a threat that might hit you anywhere at any time. Lots of precautions are being taken and we’re spending endless hours at home.
With the initial outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in far-flung countries, Gazans actually felt relieved as no cases had been reported in our country.
In fact, everyone saw the economic blockade and access restrictions that we have lived under for so long as a bit of a blessing. The limited movement of travellers minimised the probability of infections in this small high-density strip of land on the Mediterranean.
However, things rapidly changed when the Ministry of Health reported the first two cases of Covid-19 in Gaza. Two men who were travelling into Gaza from Pakistan had caught the virus and now brought it into our community.
Covid-19: A pandemic breaks through the blockade
I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Many people rushed to ensure they had everything they’d need to look after their families.
Supermarkets, bakeries, shops and ATMs were crowded with people trying to quickly grab whatever they could. However, many more Gazans did not. Simply, because they have no financial reserves to use in such situations.
When I went out, I wore medical gloves and kept a bottle of hand sanitiser in my car.
The first thing I saw as I left my building was the caretaker spraying disinfectant on the door handles, the lift, the stairs and the handrails. He told me I should clean our flat using disinfectant.
Once I reached the supermarket, however, I felt like I was going into a hospital because everyone was wearing gloves and masks. The people working at the supermarkets were running to refill the shelves.
It was pleasingly strange though to see that everybody was shopping with ease and that there were no fights over toilet paper or cleaning products!
Staying at home: Life in isolation
Since the shopping rush, everybody has been staying at home, holding their breath and hoping their loved ones will not test positive for the virus.
There have been many social media campaigns asking everyone to #stayathome and people have had to adjust.
My wife had a long discussion with her mother on the phone, who was trying to convince her not to attend a big family wedding. Likewise, Amira*, my four-year-old daughter, still doesn’t understand why school has been cancelled.
She keeps telling me that she misses her teacher. She still can’t adjust to learning at home.
However, despite the anxiety, staying at home also offers us a precious chance to spend some quality time at home with our families. We are trying to be inventive with activities to keep our children entertained. We’re colouring and painting, watching cartoons and trying to recite the Qur’an.
Yet still, I cannot push the memories of the 2014 conflict out of my mind. The streets are empty, just as they were then. I still hear loudly and clearly the noise of the surveillance drones hovering all around.
I keep hearing ambulance sirens, just as I did in 2014. The only thing that is different is that this time, there is no bombing.
Yet going outside is still dangerous. Over 1,000 people are in quarantine, having returned home from abroad.
Poverty in times of crisis: Beyond Covid-19
As we now try and manage the virus and raise awareness about washing hands and keeping safe, we must remember those who are most vulnerable.
Those who have lost their income, and cannot provide for their families.
There are thousands of people who rely on daily wages such as shop owners, handicraft men and women, taxi drivers and stall-owners. For these people, things are going to be incredibly challenging financially.
During this crisis, I’m also thinking about the thousands of female teachers working at the local pre-school, which Islamic Relief rehabilitated and helped to run. It is now closed. Teachers have to stay at home and they are not earning any income.
For those without an income or struggling financially, buying important hygiene products and food to last throughout the quarantine period is impossible.
As a Gazan and humanitarian worker, my main concern during the Covid-19 crisis is not the restriction of movement. This is an everyday reality for us.
No, in this crisis, what worries me most is the thousands of people who have lost their daily income.
What’s more, what about the young men and women who’ve graduated university and still haven’t had the chance to secure a dignified source of income, despite their intellectual and physical abilities?
I’ve long been worried about students’ education, which has been disrupted by man-made disasters and regular conflict. Students have been successful in earning sponsorships to study abroad and then lost them at the last moment due to border closure.
Yet this time it is different, Gaza is not alone. I hope that this Covid-19 pandemic will end soon and that peace will prevail.
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*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s identity.