According to health officials in the embattled Gaza Strip, at least seven people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the enclave to nine.
In a statement released Wednesday night, the Gaza Health Ministry said the new patients had been in contact with the first two who tested positive earlier this week.
The new cases were security guards guarding quarantine facilities in southern Gaza, the ministry added.
Security guards "have not left and remain in the quarantine center, and have not mingled with anyone outside the facility … near the Rafah border crossing," local media reported.
Almost two million Gaza residents have been urged to take precautionary measures and practice social distancing by staying home in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.
Shadi al-Tabatibi is the grandson of Mohammed al-Tabatibi, the 79-year-old man who was one of the first two to test positive for the virus earlier this week.
Shadi al-Tabatibi told Al Jazeera that he and his family members were surprised to learn that the new patients had contracted the virus from their grandfather.
"My grandfather suffers from diabetes and blood pressure … and we are concerned about the possibility of his health deteriorating," said the 26-year-old.
Her grandfather is among dozens of people currently in quarantine centers in the southern Gaza Strip, where many have expressed concern about the lack of hygiene and available medical care.
Shadi al-Tabatibi's grandfather has said there are not enough "teams to treat the disease,quot; and that "there is not adequate medical care,quot; at the facility, according to his grandson.
"People here are scared, the streets are empty … it's like the days of the war in Gaza."
The possible outbreak of the disease in densely populated Gaza could be catastrophic, doctors and NGOs warned.
Earlier this week, authorities closed restaurants, cafes, and reception rooms. Friday prayers in mosques have also been suspended until further notice.
Rami al-Abadleh, director of the infection prevention department of the Gaza Ministry of Health, said new cases of the virus are likely to be detected.
"We take new samples for PCR tests, and we will expand our efforts to analyze 150 samples a day," al-Abadleh said, referring to a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, the test of choice used to diagnose COVID- 19.
"We have repeatedly asked for medical devices that are necessary to cover the great shortage in the health sector," he said, noting that the capabilities of the Ministry of Health are "very limited."
Gaza's health system is severely depleted and its war-affected residents are especially vulnerable as they have lived under an Israeli-Egyptian siege for almost 13 years.
The air, land and maritime blockade has restricted the entry of essential resources such as health equipment, medicines and construction materials, among others.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that Gaza's health system would not be able to cope with an outbreak as hospitals in the strip are overloaded and under-resourced.
"Our ventilators are barely enough and could only accommodate a maximum of 100 patients in the entire range," said al-Abadleh.
"Currently, there are 45 intensive care beds in all public hospitals in Gaza, and they are often occupied by other patients with heart and lung disease," added al-Abadleh. "That is why the spread of the virus in Gaza would be a real catastrophe."
Additional reports from Maram Humaid.