West Bank Faces Overcrowded Hospitals, Vaccine Shortage as COVID Cases Surge

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A Palestinian health worker treats a patient infected with the coronavirus at a hospital in Turmus Ayya town in the West Bank, last week.
A Palestinian health worker treats a patient infected with the coronavirus at a hospital in Turmus Ayya town in the West Bank, last week.Credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters

The West Bank has seen a rise in coronavirus cases over the past few days, overwhelming hospitals in the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Tuesday that most West Bank hospitals are at more than 100 percent capacity including intensive care wards. The government has closed off the districts of Bethlehem, Nablus, Qalqilyah and Jenin in an attempt to stop the spread of the pandemic.

A World Health Organization report released Thursday on the pandemic in the West Bank noted a rise of 38 percent in infections and 61 percent in deaths in the week compared to the week before the report was published. The highest rate of infection is in Ramallah (17 percent), followed by Hebron (14 percent), East Jerusalem (12.3 percent), Nablus (11.7 percent), Bethlehem (10.1 percent) and Tul Karm (5.3 percent). According to the report, 90.5 percent of beds in hospitals earmarked for COVID-19 patients are taken, and 93 percent of intensive care beds are taken. The World Health Organization attributes the current wave in the West Bank to coronavirus variants.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, 1,693 new infections were diagnosed over the past 24 hours out of 7,900 tests, and 13 patients had died. The ministry said the number of patients in serious condition had risen to 15,539 of whom were on ventilators.

The governor of the Bethlehem district Kamel Hamid said Tuesday that about 180 people in his district required breathing assistance to various degrees and that all the intensive care units in the area were full. The governor of the Qalqilyah district, Rafeh Rawajbeh, said Tuesday that since the beginning of March, more than 500 new coronavirus patients had been diagnosed in his district – 80 over the past 24 hours, and that the district’s hospitals were at full capacity. According to a Palestinian Authority health care official, in the first and second waves of the pandemic people took the disease as a “passing matter” and some hoped for herd immunity, while today “the picture is much more serious and dangerous and the atmosphere is that there’s no control over anything.”

The PA is complaining that it has not yet received 37,000 Pfizer vaccination doses to have reached it as a grant via the World Health Organization’s Covax program. One third of that number is intended for the Gaza Strip and two thirds to the West Bank. Prime Minister Shtayyeh called yesterday at the start of the Palestinian government meeting on the international community and WHO to speed up the arrival of the vaccines promised the PA – most of them from Russia – and the shipments that the PA has already paid for. Palestinian Health Minister Mai Kaila said the vaccine supply problem does not stem from any difficulty the PA has in paying for them but from the limited supply capacity of the companies producing them and of WHO.

According to the last WHO report from March 2, the ministry had received 12,000 doses, of which 2,000 were sent to Gaza and 200 to the Jordanian royal household. The ministry said that there were only 9,800 does left in the West Bank, enough for 4,800 people. The ministry said that 90 percent of the vaccines were given to health care workers, government ministers and security personnel in the Palestinian president’s and prime minister’s offices. Members of the PLO Executive Committee over 65 were also given shots, as well as 100 students and the Palestinian soccer team, which is due to go abroad.

Public criticism over distribution policy rising

According to information obtained by Haaretz from Palestinian and Israeli officials familiar with the matter, the PA has so far received 10,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine as a contribution from Russia, of which 1,000 went to Gaza and 200 to Jordan. The officials added that Israel had given 4,500 doses of Moderna vaccine to the West Bank out of the 5,000 the government had approved to give to health care workers in the PA, and another 200 doses of the Pfizer vaccine as humanitarian assistance.

The United Arab Emirates has sent 20,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip. The PA purchased a further 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which are slated to arrive between late March and June.

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