By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, Nov 22 (Reuters) - A sharp rise in coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip could overwhelm the Palestinian enclave's meagre medical system by next week, public health advisers said on Sunday.
Gaza, where the dense and poor population of 2 million is vulnerable to contagions, has logged 14,000 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths, mostly since August.
Seventy-nine of Gaza's 100 ventilators have been taken up by COVID-19 patients, said Abdelraouf Elmanama, a microbiologist who is part of the enclave's pandemic task force.
"In 10 days the health system will become unable to absorb such a hike in cases and there might be cases that will not find a place at intensive care units," he said, adding that the current 0.05% mortality rate among COVID-19 patients could rise.
Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers have so far imposed one lockdown. A long-standing Israeli blockade, which is supported by neighbouring Egypt, has crippled the Gazan economy and undermined its public health apparatus.
Israel says it is trying to keep weapons from reaching Hamas, against which it has fought three wars and whose facilities it struck earlier on Sunday in retaliation for a Palestinian rocket launch against one of its southern cities.
"We are not giving Hamas any 'coronavirus discounts'," Israeli cabinet minister Izhar Shay told Army Radio. "We will continue responding as appropriate."
But Shay said Israel was enabling international humanitarian aid to reach Gaza, adding: "This is the level that we can preserve in the coronavirus context." Abdelnaser Soboh, emergency health lead in the World Health Organization's Gaza sub-office, cautioned, however, that "within a week, we will become unable to care for critical cases".
The infection rate among those being tested was 21%, with a relative increase in carriers over the age of 60, he said.
"This is a dangerous indicator since most of (those over 60) may need to be hospitalized," Soboh added. (Writing by Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)