GAZA (Reuters) - The densely populated Gaza Strip reported its first coronavirus cases, and stay-at-home orders were announced in the occupied West Bank on Sunday as Palestinian health officials tried to limit contagion.
Two Palestinian men, one aged 79 and the other 63, tested positive after returning from Pakistan via Egypt late on Sunday.
Officials said the two patients, initially reported by authorities in Gaza to be in their 30s, were in stable condition in a quarantine area in the border town of Rafah.
“Thank God, the circle of contact wasn’t big,” said Salama Marouf, chairman of the Gaza government media office.
All those who had been in contact with the two men had also been quarantined, he said.
Schools, public markets and event halls have all been shut in Gaza over the past two weeks.
Muslim religious authorities in Gaza and the West Bank urged people to pray at home, rather than in mosques, and not to hold traditional mourning gatherings at relatives’ homes in the event of fatalities.
The Palestinian health ministry listed 59 confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank, while Israel had 945 confirmed cases and one death.
Gaza’s 375 sq km (145 sq miles) are home to around 2 million Palestinians. Health experts say infection could spread fast among people living so close together, especially as medical supplies are scarce.
An Israeli blockade, supported by Egypt, has restricted cross-border movement for years, amid security concerns following the Islamist militant Hamas movement’s takeover of Gaza in 2007.
In the West Bank, the Palestinian government ordered people to stay home for two weeks to try to slow the spread of the virus.
Medical personnel, pharmacists, grocers and bakers were exempted. A Palestinian official said people would be allowed to shop for food.
On Saturday, Israeli authorities said they were closing borders with Gaza and the West Bank to commercial traffic, though some patients and humanitarian staff could cross.
People entering Gaza via Rafah or Israel’s Erez crossing since March 15 have been quarantined at designated facilities, the World Health Organization said, putting the number of those in isolation at 1,287. Another 2,017 are in home quarantine.
In the West Bank, more than 9,900 people were in quarantine at home or in other facilities.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Kevin Liffey