Geneva, March 20 : A United Nations human rights expert has expressed concern about the potential impact of Covid-19 on the Palestinian territory, especially the Gaza Strip, and held that it is Israel's legal duty to prevent its spread there.
"The legal duty, anchored in Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, requires that Israel, the occupying power, must ensure that all the necessary preventive means available to it are utilised to 'combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics'," said Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, as per a media statement by the UN Human Rights Commission.
All of the responsible authorities ? Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas ? bear the duty to provide essential health services and apply public health measures throughout this pandemic in a non-discriminatory fashion, he said.
He noted that the initial publications to increase awareness about the spread of Covid-19 issued by the Israeli Ministry of Health were almost exclusively in Hebrew, with virtually no information posted in Arabic.
T"his serious imbalance is apparently being addressed after protests, but it highlights the importance of ensuring equality of treatment," he said.
Lynk, an Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London (Ontario), expressed special concern about the situation in the Gaza Strip.
"Its healthcare system was collapsing even before the pandemic.
Its stocks of essential drugs are chronically low. Its natural sources of drinkable water are largely contaminated. Its electrical system provides sporadic power. Deep poverty amid appalling socio-economic conditions is prevalent throughout the Strip.
"Gaza's population is also a physically more vulnerable population, with malnutrition on the rise, poorly controlled non-communicable diseases, dense living and housing conditions, an elderly population without access to proper nursing care and high smoking rates," he said.
While Israel currently has 529 Covid-19 cases, the Palestinian Authority has reported 47 cases of Covid-19 in the West Bank, mostly in Bethlehem.
Hamas has not reported any cases in Gaza, which it controls, but has taken some protective measures, such as disinfecting public areas.