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UN begins home food drops for Gaza's needy to stem virus

UN begins home food drops for Gaza's needy to stem virus
Some 4,000 deliveries were made Tuesday, with an estimated 70,000 others to be made over the next three weeks. - AP NEWSROOM
GAZA CITY: A UN aid agency Tuesday began delivering food to the homes of impoverished Palestinians instead of making them pick up such parcels at crowded distribution centres -- part of an attempt to prevent a mass outbreak of the new coronavirus in the densely populated Gaza Strip.

As the virus continued to spread across the Middle East, Iran, the hardest-hit country in the region, reported 141 new deaths, pushing the death toll closer to 3,000 people.
Late Tuesday, Gaza's Health Ministry said two more cases have been confirmed among travellers who returned from Egypt, bringing the number to 12.

In Israel, defence officials said they had converted a missile-production plant into an assembly line for much-needed breathing machines. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, said it would pay medical expenses for anyone infected with the virus.
In Gaza, the UN. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees has for decades provided staples like flour, rice, oil and canned foods to roughly half of the territory's 2 million people. Under the old system, those eligible lined up at crowded distribution centres four times a year to pick up their aid parcels. Starting on Tuesday, the agency began making home deliveries.

"We assessed that tens of thousands of people will pour into the food distribution centres and this is very dangerous,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, the agency's spokesman in Gaza.

Some 4,000 deliveries were made Tuesday, with an estimated 70,000 others to be made over the next three weeks, he said.

Drivers on three-wheel motorcycles dropped off the food, calling people out of their homes, confirming their identities and leaving the bags outside. The agency instructed people to stay 2 meters (about 6 feet) from the delivery men to minimize the risk of infection.

“This makes it easy for us,” said Manal Ziara, a resident of Shati refugee camp in west Gaza City. “The old mechanism causes crowding and touching that help the virus spread."

Twelve people have tested positive for coronavirus in Gaza, whose borders have been largely sealed by Israel and Egypt since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

However, there's only a small number of available tests. International officials fear the virus could quickly spread and overwhelm an already gutted health system.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia or death.

Particularly hard hit has been Iran, home to 80 million people. Iran’s state TV reported 141 new deaths Tuesday, pushing the death toll to 2,898. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said there are now 44,606 confirmed cases, including 3,703 in critical condition.

In Saudi Arabia, King Salman said the government will pay for the treatment of all coronavirus patients, including visitors and foreign residents. Saudi Arabia has more than 1,500 confirmed cases of the virus and eight recorded deaths.

It has sealed off three major cities and imposed a night-time curfew across the country, as well as suspended flights and the year-long Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. -- AP