First COVID-19 case confirmed in overcrowded Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon

The patient, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, was transferred by the Lebanese Red Cross from the Wavel camp to the state-run Rafic Hariri hospital in Beirut.
Sunday 26/04/2020
Palestinian factions, in coordination with Lebanese security forces, impose a lockdown on the Wavel camp (also known as the Jalil Camp) for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley. (AFP)
Near-panic. Palestinian factions, in coordination with Lebanese security forces, impose a lockdown on the Wavel camp (also known as the Jalil Camp) for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley. (AFP)

BEIRUT--Panic struck residents of Baalbek region in east Lebanon where the first coronavirus case was confirmed in one of the country’s 12 overcrowded Palestinian refugee camps, which lack proper sanitation and access to clean water.

The patient, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, was transferred by the Lebanese Red Cross from the Wavel camp to the state-run Rafic Hariri hospital in Beirut where most COVID-19 patients are being quarantined and treated, the UN agency caring for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said in a statement on April 21.

“The agency is doing everything necessary to provide the required assistance to the patient’s family to allow them to isolate themselves with all the arrangements required and to secure the necessary needs,” the statement said.

Medical experts were due to visit the Wavel camp in the eastern Bekaa Valley to carry out tests, the agency added.

The testing will focus on the woman’s relatives and people she has interacted with, as well as 50 others chosen arbitrarily “inside the camp and its surroundings,” said Lebanon’s official National News Agency.

The Wavel camp has been placed on lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus in Baalbek region, one of the least infected districts in Lebanon, with less than five cases, according to government statistics.

More than 2,000 people live in Wavel, according to statistics released by Lebanon’s government after a 2017 census, but the UN agency says the population of those registered in the camp is much higher.

Aid groups have warned that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in Lebanon’s overcrowded camps are the most vulnerable and that self-isolating patients in the camps where sanitation is weak would be one of the top challenges.

“The main concern remains… the spread of coronavirus in the overcrowded Palestine refugee camps where there are very limited possibilities for home isolation,” an UNRWA spokeswoman said earlier this month.

More than 174,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon, according to official figures, with most residing in camps ruled by Palestinian factions beyond the reach of Lebanese security forces.

But unofficial estimates say the Palestinians, whose forefathers fled the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, could number as many as 500,000.

And out of the 1.5 million Syrians Lebanon says it hosts since the civil war broke out in the neighbouring country nine years ago, nearly one million are registered with the UN as refugees.

So far just one Palestinian, who lives outside a camp, and three Syrian residents have tested positive in Lebanon for COVID-19, compared to 677 infections and 22 deaths across the country.

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