Beirut – Four residents of a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Thursday, a health official said, bringing total cases in the settlement to five.
The residents of the Wavel camp in the eastern Bekaa Valley were tested after a member of their household, a Palestinian refugee from Syria, was admitted to the state-run Rafic Hariri hospital in Beirut earlier this week for demonstrating COVID-19 symptoms.
Contact tracing and initial investigation by the health ministry “of the refugee patient who tested positive with Covid19 in Baalbek yesterday reveals four members of her immediate household affected,” Firas Abiad, the hospital’s head, said in a post on Twitter.
“All contacts are in quarantine and under observation.”
Lebanon has officially announced 688 infections including 22 deaths from COVID-19 across the country.
Medical experts visited the Wavel camp on Wednesday to carry out tests, focusing on relatives of the first patient, people she has interacted with, as well as 50 others chosen arbitrarily inside the camp and its surroundings, according to Lebanon’s official National News Agency.
Apart from the 5 confirmed cases in the camp, all other tests have returned negative, said the head of the Rafic Hariri hospital.
There have been no reports of coronavirus cases in other Palestinian camps in the country.
In coordination with Lebanese security forces, Palestinian factions in charge of security have imposed a lockdown on the Wavel camp, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, the NNA report said.
More than 2,000 people live in Wavel, according to statistics released by Lebanon’s government after a 2017 census, but the UN agency for Palestinian refugees says the actual population of the camp is much higher.
Aid groups have warned that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in Lebanon’s overcrowded camps are the most vulnerable and that self-isolating patients in the camps where sanitation is weak would be one of the top challenges.
More than 174,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon, according to official figures, with most residing in camps ruled by Palestinian factions beyond the reach of Lebanese security forces.
But unofficial estimates say the Palestinians, whose forefathers fled the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, could number as many as 500,000.
Lebanon says it also hosts 1.5 million Syrians since civil war broke out in the neighbouring country nine years ago, nearly one million of whom are registered with the United Nations as refugees.
One other Palestinian, who does not live in a camp, and three Syrians had previously tested positive in Lebanon for COVID-19.