Coronavirus cases in West Bank climb to 35 as PA calls on public to pray at home
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Coronavirus cases in West Bank climb to 35 as PA calls on public to pray at home

Palestinian police says it arrested cafe owners in Ramallah for not abiding by orders barring opening of their establishments; health authorities in Gaza say enclave has no cases

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority security forces man a checkpoint at one of the entrances to the West Bank city of Bethlehem on March 10, 2020, currently under lockdown due to coronavirus. (Musa Al Shaer/AFP)
Palestinian Authority security forces man a checkpoint at one of the entrances to the West Bank city of Bethlehem on March 10, 2020, currently under lockdown due to coronavirus. (Musa Al Shaer/AFP)

Palestinian authorities announced four new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, raising the total number of known infections in the West Bank to 35.

The four new cases included young men and women in Bethlehem, who had been near persons carrying the virus, Ibrahim Milhem, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh’s spokesman, said at a press conference.

Shortly after Palestinian health authorities confirmed the first cases in the West Bank late last week, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency for 30 days.

Shtayyeh has since announced the closure of schools and universities, the cancellation of all hotel reservations and conferences, the shuttering of tourist and religious sites, the banning of public gatherings and protests, and other measures.

He also has declared that no one would be allowed to leave or enter Bethlehem except in the case of emergencies.

Thirty-four of the confirmed cases were persons in Bethlehem, with the only other being in Tulkarm in the northern West Bank.

Milhem also said that the PA government was calling on Palestinians to perform prayers in their homes rather than public places.

On Friday mornings, large numbers of Palestinian Muslims usually gather around noon to carry out prayers.

The PA Police said on Friday that it had arrested cafe owners in Ramallah for not abiding by directives barring the opening of their establishments.

A priest walks past the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, a day after spraying sanitizers as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, on March 6, 2020. (Musa Al Shaer/AFP)

PA Ramallah Governor Laila Ghannam issued an order on Monday banning all cafes, restaurants, gyms and sports halls from opening in the Ramallah area.

On Wednesday, however, Ghannam announced that restaurants would be permitted to deliver orders or provide take-away outside their physical locations.

Since coronavirus emerged in China late last year, more than 125,000 confirmed cases have been reported, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus has killed upwards of 4,600 people, most of them in China, though cases have been recorded in 117 countries and territories.

In the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, the Hamas-run health ministry said on Friday that there were no confirmed cases of the virus.

It also said that 2,667 persons were quarantined in their homes, while one other was being held in isolation at a special facility.

Israel said Friday it had allowed the entry of 200 testing kits into the Strip.

On Sunday, Abdelnaser Soboh, the head of the WHO’s sub-office in Gaza, resoundingly said the coastal enclave’s health infrastructure would not be able to handle hundreds or thousands of cases of the virus.

“The health system in Gaza is already shaky and barely functioning. It cannot take on the burden of a large number of cases,” he told The Times of Israel, warning that such a scenario could contribute to its “collapse.”

Hospitals in Gaza frequently lack sufficient medications and medical equipment and often rely on backup generators to maintain a consistent flow of power.

Soboh said that the health institutions in Gaza carry a total of 2,500 beds and some 50-60 ventilators for adults.

One of the symptoms experienced by many diagnosed with the virus has been difficulty breathing.

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