Since Covid-19 first appeared in the blocked Gaza Strip, the authorities have only been able to conduct a relatively small number of coronavirus tests due to the lack of medical care.
Now the only laboratory in Gaza processing test results is temporarily inoperable after an Israeli air strike nearby on Monday, Gaza officials said.
The strike, which targeted a separate building in Gaza City, sent splinters and debris flying across the street and damaged the laboratory and administrative offices of the Hamas-led health ministry, said Dr. Majdi Dhair, Director of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Ministry.
A ministry official was hospitalized and in serious condition after being hit in the head by a splinter, said Dr. Dhair on Tuesday in a telephone interview.
“This attack was barbaric,” he said. “There’s no way to justify it.”
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the strike. Since Israel began its bombing campaign in Gaza on May 10, the army has declared that its air strikes are aimed exclusively at militants and their infrastructure.
Dr. Dhair said he believed the equipment in the lab was intact, but stressed that it would take at least a day to clean up the damage and prepare him to run coronavirus tests again. In the meantime, the medical teams would stop doing tests.
Rami Abadla, director of the Infection Control Department of the Gaza Ministry, said the laboratory will also temporarily not be able to process results for other tests related to HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases.
Over the past week, Gaza authorities tested an average of 515 Palestinians for the virus every day. According to official data, only 1.9 percent of the two million people in Gaza were fully vaccinated on Monday, compared with 56 percent in Israel.
After an increase in cases in April, mainly due to the highly communicable coronavirus variant first identified in the UK, new infections in Gaza have recently dropped to manageable levels, health experts said. But with Israeli air strikes destroying buildings, causing widespread damage and killing more than 200 people by Monday, United Nations officials have warned coronavirus cases could re-emerge.
Unvaccinated Palestinians crowded into schools operated by the United Nations Relief Society in Gaza, turning them into de facto air raid shelters. Matthias Schmale, the head of operations at the UN agency, said last week that these schools “could become mass disseminators”.
Mr Schmale and the World Health Organization’s chief official in Gaza, Sacha Bootsma, also said that all vaccinations stopped when hostilities broke out and that any vaccine supply in the territory had been delayed by the closure of the border crossings in the Gaza Strip.