UN human rights expert Michael Lynk on Thursday said he is worried about the potential impact of the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, on Gaza due its collapsing health system.
The UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 urged Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to live up to their international legal responsibilities.
They must do this by ensuring the right to health for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, he said.
“I am particularly worried about the potential impact of COVID-19 on Gaza. Its health care system was collapsing even before the pandemic,” said Lynk.
“Its stocks of essential drugs are chronically low. Its natural sources of drinkable water are largely contaminated. Its electrical system provides sporadic power. Deep poverty amid appalling socio-economic conditions is prevalent throughout the Strip,” he added.
He explained that Gaza’s population is also a physically more vulnerable population, with malnutrition on the rise, poorly controlled non-communicable diseases, dense living and housing conditions and an elderly population without access to proper nursing care along with high smoking rates.
Lynk said that the legal duty, anchored in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, requires that Israel, the occupying power, must ensure that all the necessary preventive means available to it are utilized to "combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics".
All the responsible authorities -- Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas -- bear the duty to provide essential health services and apply public health measures throughout this pandemic in a non-discriminatory fashion, he stressed.
The Special Rapporteur observed with concern that the initial publications to increase awareness about the spread of COVID-19 issued by the Israeli Health Ministry were almost exclusively in Hebrew, with virtually no information posted in Arabic.
He said this was a serious imbalance that was apparently being addressed after protests, but it highlighted the importance of ensuring equality of treatment.
Lynk noted: “Any restrictions on human rights -- such as access to health services or freedom of movement -- must be strictly justified, proportionate and should only be curtailed for a length of time no longer than necessary and in a non-discriminatory manner.”
“In the context of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, where patients’ conditions deteriorate rapidly as symptoms become more severe, any delays getting to hospital could be fatal,” he said.
COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China last December, and has spread to at least 160 countries and territories. The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic.
Out of more than 235,500 confirmed cases, the death toll now exceeds 9,700, and over 84,500 have recovered, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.
Despite the rising number of cases, most who become infected suffer only mild symptoms and recover.