Palestinians Tighten Lockdown as Coronavirus Strains Ravage the West Bank

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A paramedic with Israel's MDA prepares to administer the Pfizer vaccine to a Palestinian woman at Qalandia checkpoint , last week.
A paramedic with Israel's MDA prepares to administer the Pfizer vaccine to a Palestinian woman at Qalandia checkpoint , last week. Credit: AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The Palestinian Authority announced Saturday a tightening of the lockdown in the West Bank for 12 days, citing an uptick in new cases of the coronavirus variant and the delayed arrival of inoculations.

West Bank hospitals are reporting that intensive care units designated to COVID-19 patients are under significant strain, operating at between 80 and 100 percent capacity. There is also serious concern over the number of children in these wards.

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However, the stricter measures do not constitute a total lockdown, which was deliberated last week by the Health Ministry but faced firm objections from the Chamber of Commerce.

The main change announced on Saturday by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh was the closing of kindergartens and schools, other than classes preparing for matriculation exams, and a return to a nighttime curfew, in effect from 7 P.M. to 6 A.M. (and not from 9 P.M. as was the case in recent weeks). Furthermore, Shtayyeh reiterated the prohibition on travel between different districts and on the entry of East Jerusalem residents and Israeli citizens into Palestinian enclaves. These prohibitions were already in effect but were not successfully enforced by Palestinian Authority forces. A complete lockdown will remain in effect on Fridays and Saturdays, including a ban on travel by car. District governors will be given the option of enacting stricter measures as required.

There was also a renewal of the ban on weddings, parties, as well as grieving families receiving people offering their condolences. Government offices and the private sector will work at 50 percent capacity. These prohibitions are supposed to be in effect in rural parts of Areas B and C as well, in which the Palestinian police has no jurisdiction, and where social distancing, the wearing of masks and the closing of businesses on weekends tend to be more lax.

A health care worker takes a nasal swab sample from a Palestinian man at a COVID-19 testing center, in Ramallah, on Thursday.Credit: Nasser Nasser/AP

On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported that a randomized sample of coronavirus patients showed that more than three-quarters were infected with the British variant, and there are fears that the British and South African variants cause a more severe illness which also affects young adults and children.

According to the Health Ministry, nine Palestinians died from COVID-19 complications between Friday and Saturday. One of these was in the Gaza Strip, three were in East Jerusalem, and five in other cities across the West Bank. The ages of the deceased were not disclosed.

This brings the number of fatalities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (including East Jerusalem) to 2,236 since the pandemic broke out. 1,623 further verified cases were registered, raising the number of active cases known to the authorities to 16,000, 1,750 of whom are in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian medical authorities estimate that the number of infected people is much higher than the official number of 206,000, possibly exceeding one million.

The Palestinian Authority has also purchased vaccines for $10 million, said Shtayyeh on Saturday, which are expected to arrive during the first week of March. He did not note the quantity and country of origin of this batch, but said that the delay in their arrival stemmed from competition between different countries over the vaccines.

As far as is known, 10,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine have arrived so far at the Palestinian Authority. 2,000 of these were delivered to the Gaza Strip. These were considered a donation, but an independent Palestinian medical source says that the Authority mistakenly believed that Russia would donate a much larger number of doses. The Authority is not officially confirming that it received 2,000 Moderna vaccine doses from Israel. The Gaza Strip has also received a donation of 20,000 doses from the United Arab Emirates.

A Palestinian man walks past a closed school, amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Ramallah todayCredit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

The vaccines received by the Palestinian Authority were supposed to go to medical teams first, as well as to elderly people and people with other illnesses. However, the civil society organization AMAN, a group combating corruption and seeking transparency and accountability, noted on Saturday that the vaccine allocation was unclear and opaque, echoing public concern that there are certain people who were able to bypass the declared priorities.

Apart from the above mentioned batch, it is an open secret that the 200 doses Israel gave the Palestinian Authority earlier this year went to President Mahmoud Abbas and his associates.

A Palestinian police officer issues a ticket to a motorists who is not wearing a face mask, in Ramallah, on Thursday.Credit: Nasser Nasser/AP

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