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Despite restrictions, coronavirus infections remain high in West Bank, Gaza

Palestinian Authority says it’ll get first vaccine batch within two weeks

Members of the Palestinian security forces enforce a lockdown following the spread of the coronavirus in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 18, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Members of the Palestinian security forces enforce a lockdown following the spread of the coronavirus in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 18, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Four weeks into a coronavirus curfew in Gaza and nearly two weeks into a lockdown in the West Bank, rates of coronavirus infection remain high in both Palestinian areas.

While West Bank Palestinian areas remain under lockdown, the restrictions are not as harsh currently as during previous attempts by Ramallah to curb the virus’s spread: Some shops have been allowed to remain open though universities, schools, gyms, and other potential sources of infection were shut down. Travel between the various West Bank governorates has also been banned.

Despite the lockdown, the coronavirus outbreak in the West Bank has proven difficult to snuff out. According to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry, 566 new infections were detected in the past 24 hours, and there are currently 10,062 active infections in PA areas.

Around 12 percent of coronavirus tests in the past 24 hours have come back positive in the West Bank as a whole, a spokesperson for the ministry said on Wednesday, with some areas reporting positivity rates as high as 30% per day.

On the ground in the West Bank, officials acknowledge, there is often little adherence to the coronavirus guidelines.

Members of the Palestinian security forces enforce a lockdown following the spread the of the Coronavirus , in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 18, 2020. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90

“The streets are full and the shops are open. The police occasionally do operations to inspect for violations, but it’s a massive problem. It’s just too much for them — they’re not in control of the situation,” Maher al-Hushia, an administrator at a hospital in Jenin, said in a phone call.

Al-Hushia said that his greatest problem was finding enough gloves for his medical staff. Protective equipment has become scarce in the West Bank, driving a dramatic rise in prices over the past few months, he said.

Palestinian health officials said that compliance with the restrictions was low across the West Bank, warning that not enough Palestinians were being tested for the coronavirus.

“There’s a large number of provinces with little adherence to the regulations. People are not following the prohibition on moving back and forth between governorates, including between places where there is compliance and those where there’s none,” PA Health Ministry spokesperson Kamal al-Shakhra said in an interview with Palestine TV on Wednesday.

Al-Shakhra said he expected that the lockdown — set to expire at the end of the week — would have to be extended in order to cope with the spread of cases.

View of the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 27, 2020, during a lockdown following the spread of the COVID-19.

There is one glimmer of hope: The Palestinians are expected to receive their first shipment of coronavirus vaccines within the next two weeks, al-Shakhra said.

The initial shipment will contain 100,000 doses for medical staff, at-risk groups, and Palestinian security forces. The Health Ministry spokesperson declined to say which coronavirus vaccine the PA would receive, as the PA has yet to publicly announce an official deal with any country or company.

“The vaccine that arrives quickest is the best for Palestine,” al-Shakhra said.

Officials in Ramallah have declared their intention in the past to purchase millions of doses of the controversial Russian-produced Sputnik V vaccine, which is widely believed not to have undergone thorough safety testing.

Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip saw 711 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the coastal enclave to 10,176 active infections. Around 35% of coronavirus tests came back positive.

The Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas terror group, began tightening restrictions nearly a month ago. But despite a nightly curfew, closed schools, and total lockdown on the weekends, the number of infections has stubbornly refused to decrease in the densely populated territory.

When the curfew measures were announced nearly a month ago, the Hamas Health Ministry recorded 10,321 active cases, with around 32% of cases coming back positive — meaning that the Strip’s de facto leaders have little to show for a month of tighter restrictions.

According to the PA Health Ministry, 1,371 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have died from the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

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