With 205 Respirators, Palestinian Authority Fears Collapse Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

In an ironic twist, Palestinians have wired the West Bank with roadblocks in a desperate bid to keep the pandemic from spreading beyond 106 current cases and one woman who has died

Jack Khoury
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A Palestinian worker is swabbed by a medical worker for coronavirus upon his return from Israel, at Tarqumiya checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank, March 24, 2020.
A Palestinian worker is swabbed by a medical worker for coronavirus upon his return from Israel, at Tarqumiya checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank, March 24, 2020.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS
Jack Khoury

The Palestinian Authority has warned it will be short of equipment to handle the coronavirus pandemic in the West Bank if the spread of the illness is not curbed.

Palestinian and Israeli medical sources told Haaretz that West Bank hospitals have 205 ventilating machines at their disposal to serve a population of 2.5 million people, and that as of Friday they had done corona tests on only 5,562 people due to a shortage of diagnostic kits.

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Haaretz Weekly Ep. 71: A tale of two crises: Coronavirus vs. Constitution

One hundred and six confirmed cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed in the West Bank as of Monday evening, one of whom, a woman, has died, while 18 other people have recuperated.

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that most of the patients diagnosed in recent days are workers returning from jobs in Israel or in settlements. They expressed concern about seeing a possible outbreak in villages in zones B and C where PA operations are limited.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh has ordered stricter enforcement measures to prevent Palestinian civilians from moving among the cities or between villages and cities, and for further testing that focuses on Palestinians returning from Israel or abroad, and people falling in the risky categories were placed in isolation.

“The laborers are the focus of the problem,” a member of the security forces said. “The outbreak started with tourists in Bethlehem but for the moment that has been handled and the city has been closed off and the focus has moved to the laborers in Israel and the settlements. There are checkpoints but some people know how to bypass them, and this puts others at risk. They are in a very difficult situation torn between wanting to make a living and the danger they pose to themselves and those with whom they are in contact.”

Dr. Abed Aslam al-Hayan, an infectious disease expert, told the official West Bank news agency WAFA that the Palestinian health system is nearing a critical point. He said, “we face the most dangerous stage, just as what happened in the village (where a woman of 60 died of the virus). The illness has struck a worker returning from Israel who infected family members who infected others, and this is how circles of contagion began. The further the circle spreads away from the source the more dangerous it gets and more difficult to bring under control, therefore it’s very important to obey instructions.”

Palestinian workers returning from Israel arrive at a testing site for the coronavirus at Tarqumiya checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank, March 24, 2020.
Palestinian workers returning from Israel arrive at a testing site for the coronavirus at Tarqumiya checkpoint near Hebron, West Bank, March 24, 2020.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

A Fatah activist from the Nablus area told Haaretz that in areas where there is no security presence local committees have been set up to monitor who enters each community. He said the West Bank is wired with Palestinian checkpoints and police ad local committee heads permit only humanitarian cases, or merchants and suppliers of food and medicine to get through.

“It’s a little ironic how for years we fought against the checkpoints and cutoff of West Bank territory by the Israeli army, now we are taking similar steps to stop the spread of this cursed pandemic,” the activist said. “But we understand that without taking such steps the situation is likely to deteriorate to a catastrophe.”

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