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Lebanon confirms first coronavirus case in Palestine refugee camp

April 22, 2020 at 1:55 pm

Palestinian refugees living in the Wavel camp in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley are set to be tested for coronavirus after one resident was found to have contracted the disease.

A team of medical experts from Lebanon’s leading coronavirus treatment centre, the Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) in Beirut have been sent to test for new cases in the camp today.

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the camp has been put on lockdown and the confirmed case transferred to Beirut for treatment that will be covered by the relief agency.

The statement added the relief organisation is “taking all necessary steps to provide the required assistance to the patient’s family to allow them to isolate themselves inside the house”.

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Meanwhile, testing will focus on the patient’s relatives and people they recently interacted with, as well as 50 others chosen at random “inside the camp and its surroundings”, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA).

In recent weeks, the United Nations (UN) and aid groups have raised concerns that refugees and migrants around the world are especially vulnerable to the virus. Repeatedly warning that Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps – where sanitation is poor and living conditions crowded – could face difficulty isolating cases and stemming the spread of the disease.

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

According to statistics from Lebanon’s 2017 census, more than 2,000 people in Wavel, but UNWRA maintains the figure of those registered in the camp is much higher.

The same is true of the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The 2017 census put the number of Palestinians living in the country at 175,000, but UN estimates place the total nearer 500,000. While, Syrian refugees in the country number 1.5 million, accounting for a quarter of Lebanon’s population.

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said last month that efforts to prevent the spread of the disease within refugees living in Lebanon started early with awareness campaigns, distribution of disinfectant and preparations for additional hospital capacity.

To date, only one other Palestinian refugee, who lives outside a camp, and three Syrians have tested positive for coronavirus in Lebanon. The country’s health ministry has reported 677 infections, among them 21 deaths.