Gaza’s Hamas rulers allowed mosques to reopen for Friday prayers for the first time since March, despite a recent spike in new coronavirus cases within quarantine facilities in the coastal enclave.
Worshippers were given hand sanitizer as they entered mosques. They brought their own prayer rugs, wore masks and kept space between themselves, reported The Associated Press. The opening came ahead of Eid al-Fitr, a major holiday marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Authorities in Gaza have reported 35 new cases in recent days, bringing the total number to 55. All the new cases were detected in quarantine facilities. But they have renewed concerns about a wider outbreak that could overwhelm the depleted health care system in the impoverished territory, which is home to 2 million people.
Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Three wars between Israel and Hamas, as well as Palestinian infighting, have also taken a heavy toll on the health care system.
Gazans are only able to enter the territory through the Rafah crossing with Egypt and are immediately placed in mandatory quarantine for 21 days. Hamas said it would bar the entry of returnees until the end of June to allow health workers to deal with the new cases.
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death, especially in older patients or those with underlying health problems.