GAZA (AFP): Gaza’s first two confirmed coronavirus patients attended a conference with 250,000 Muslims in Pakistan last month that went ahead contrary to government advice, an official and family members said Monday.
Pakistani authorities had urged the cancelation of the five-day Tablighi Ijtema congregation, or Tablighi Jamaat in Arabic, hosted annually near Lahore.
But organizers from the conservative Sunni Muslim evangelical movement ignored government advice to postpone.
It was unclear where the two Palestinians — who returned to Gaza from Pakistan via Egypt earlier this month — contracted COVID-19.
But a statement from the Palestinian embassy in Islamabad said the two attended the event which took place “despite the warning of the Pakistani authorities against conferences.”
Omar Al-Tabatibi said his 79-year-old grandfather Mohammed and friend Amer Doghmosh had attended the Lahore event.
Previous statements from health officials had misidentified the men as being between 30 and 40.
“My grandfather learnt about the conference by chance from a friend while he was in Pakistan so he wanted to attend,” Tabatibi said.
After returning from Pakistan his grandfather stayed several days in Egypt before taking the long journey overland to Gaza, Tabatibi said.
“Maybe my grandfather caught corona in Egypt and not Pakistan, no one knows,” he added.
He said the family had already been subjected to abuse on social media and in person since the news broke.
“My little brother went to a games shop today and the owner told him to go home as his grandfather has corona.”
Gaza’s health ministry said the two men were placed in quarantine immediately after crossing into Gaza and did not mix with the population.
It described them as being in stable condition.
Omar said his grandfather has pre-existing conditions of high blood pressure and diabetes.
“I spoke to him last night on the phone and he told me he was ok and is recovering,” he said.
The United Nations has warned that a COVID-19 outbreak in Gaza could be disastrous, given the high poverty rates and weak health system in the coastal strip under Israeli blockade since 2007.