GAZA (Reuters) - H1N1 swine flu has finally reached the Gaza Strip, the health ministry said on Sunday, worrying Palestinians who had credited Israel’s blockade of the territory with keeping the virus at bay.
The ministry said five people had been diagnosed with H1N1 on Saturday. Health workers said it appeared to have been kept out until now due to restrictions that limit the flow of people as well as goods into the enclave, which is governed by the Hamas group.
“The illness hit Gaza,” said Hassan Khalaf, deputy health minister in the Gaza administration. “We have finalized a national plan to deal with it.”
Palestinians had been concerned that several thousand pilgrims who recently returned from the annual haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia might bring the virus back to Gaza with them.
Khalaf said the five patients suffered from other serious illnesses. He declined to confirm or deny reports that two of the cases had died of the disease.
H1N1, which emerged in March, causes moderate symptoms in most patients but poses greater risks to pregnant women, young people and patients with underlying health problems.
With Egypt’s help, Israel began restricting the flow of goods into Gaza in 2006 after Hamas won a legislative election. Hamas does not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and remains committed to armed struggle against the Jewish state.
Restrictions on who could enter and leave the Gaza Strip were tightened in 2007 when Hamas seized full control of the territory.
Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Tom Perry/David Stamp