Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon warned on Tuesday that the Palestinian hospitals in the eastern side of the city are on the verge of collapse, and accused the Health Ministry of ignoring their needs in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov, Leon wrote: “I would like to warn you regarding the serious shortage of medical equipment at the hospitals in East Jerusalem, particularly protective equipment and equipment to conduct coronavirus testing. This is despite repeated promises on the part of your [ministry].”
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The health care system in Jerusalem as a whole could collapse “in light of the inability of the hospitals in the east of the city to sustain the concerted efforts by all hospitals during this period,” Leon warned.
Of the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem, only two, Makassed and Saint Joseph Hospital, have established special coronavirus units. According to Health Ministry data published Wednesday, there are no coronavirus patients hospitalized in these wards.
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Over the past two weeks, Mayor Leon has met regularly with the directors of the hospitals to elaborate a coronavirus response. The Jerusalem city hall has estimated the cost of meeting their needs at 9 million shekels ($2.5 million). Leon said that the hospitals had considerable financial problems before the coronavirus pandemic hit “and now have to make major and immediate expenditures to prepare for treating coronavirus patients.”
Over the past week, Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency medical service has provided coronavirus testing training to personnel in Jerusalem from its Palestinian counterpart, the Red Crescent Society. The Red Crescent performs the testing in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem that are on the other side of the Israeli security barrier, such as Kafr Aqab and Qalandiya. MDA does not enter those neighborhoods.
Israel’s national coronavirus command center, which brings together officials from the Health Ministry, the army, the National Security Council and the Mossad intelligence service, is also concerned about the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The holiday, which begins in the last week of April, could bring about a new outbreak of coronavirus cases in Israel and the territory of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, they warned.
This is partly because of the expected return to the West Bank of 35,000 Palestinian laborers who have been working in Israel for the holiday. “Their return could boost the rate of infection, particularly in cities where there is concern over the widespread presence of the disease,” the Israeli command center said in a report. The most vulnerable cities are Bethlehem and Hebron.
The report also warned against relaxing coronavirus prevention restrictions during Ramadan for traditional holiday shopping, prayer, family meals and nature hikes, and especially for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holiday. The command center recommended an expanded publicity campaign on the importance of compliance and enforcement of restrictions and that arrangements be made to distribute food parcels to Arab communities.
With regard to the Jewish population, the center’s recommendations included particular effort to avoid exposing the elderly in the ultra-Orthodox community to carriers of the virus, especially on Seder night on Wednesday. Regulations bar Israelis from having guests at their seders who do not live in the household on a regular basis, including children who live away from their parents’ home.
During the entire duration of the pandemic so far, Jerusalem has had the largest number infected of any Israeli city. In addition, according to the data, the rate of infection in the city has increased considerably since the outbreak began. In mid-March about 300 Jerusalem residents were tested per day. That jumped to 600 per day and then to about 1,000 a day. Over the past several days, however, the rate has slowed and is now about 700 per day.
According to official data seen by Haaretz, 1,068 of the 1,442 of the Jerusalem residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday – that is, 74 percent – live in the city’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
The cabinet and the Health Ministry had considered imposing a lockdown on some of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, where infection levels have been particularly high, as well as on other neighborhoods and cities. But due to pressure from mayors around the country and from the ultra-Orthodox parties, it was ultimately decided to impose a general lockdown on the entire country in advance of the Passover holiday.
Among the consultations that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on the issue was a conversation with Mayor Leon, who objected to imposing a lockdown on ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods alone. “There is no point at this stage to a lockdown,” Leon told Haaretz on Monday. “The residents are obeying the directives and there is no point in punishing everyone,” he claimed.
A proposal is expected to be presented to the Israeli cabinet Tuesday that would divide Jerusalem into seven zones that could only be entered or left until Saturday evening for essential needs. In Jerusalem “every neighborhood is like a city,” Leon said.
In a breakdown by neighborhood, the highest rate of infection, 7.24 per 1,000 residents, is in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighborhood, which is also home to a number of families from the United States. As of Monday, 101 residents tested positive in the neighborhood, following a 17 percent increase over a three-day period.
The second highest incidence of the virus was found in Jerusalem’s northern ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Sanhedria, Ma’alot Dafna, Givat Hamivtar and Ramat Eshkol, where as of Monday, 416 cases had been diagnosed, representing 5.2 cases per 1,000 residents, and an increase of 42 percent in three days.
Those neighborhoods are followed by Ramat Shlomo, with 5 infected residents per 1,000 and Givat Mordechai with 4.8. The ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the center of the city – Mea She’arim, Beit Yisrael, Geula, Zichron Moshe and Mekor Barukh – had 4.2 per 1,000.
The two last neighborhoods on the list are Ramot and Neveh Ya’akov, each of which has a relatively low rate of infection, but even there, the number of residents diagnosed has increased sharply over the past three days. In Ramot, for example, where there are 97 residents with the virus, that represents a 51.5 percent increase in recent days. In Neveh Ya’akov there are 46 infected residents, a nearly 60 percent increase in a three-day period.
Noa Landau contributed to this report.