First Palestinian dies after becoming infected with coronavirus

PA spokesman says central West Bank woman, 60, may have contracted virus from Palestinians who work in Israel

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

Palestinian health workers disinfectant Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 25, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Palestinian health workers disinfectant Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 25, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority announced on Wednesday that a woman from the central West Bank village of Biddu died after contracting the highly infectious coronavirus.

The woman, who PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem said was in her 60s, was the first Palestinian infected with the virus to die.

Palestinian authorities have so far said 64 people in the West Bank and Gaza had tested positive for the virus, including 16 who have recovered. Most of the cases have been in the West Bank.

The woman tested positive for COVID-19 and was transferred to a hospital north of Ramallah, Milhem said Wednesday morning.

Milhem also said that the deceased woman’s daughter and son-in-law tested positive for the disease.

Milhem said that it appeared that the woman was infected with the virus by Palestinians who work in Israel. He stated that she was believed to have children who work in the Jewish state.

Shortly after Palestinian health officials confirmed the first cases in the West Bank in early March, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency for 30 days.

PA Prime Minister Mohammed 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.

On Sunday, he announced drastic measures significantly restricting freedom of movement across the West Bank.

Palestinian security forces wearing face masks block the entrance to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, March 8, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

He said that all Palestinians would be required to stay in their homes unless they were going to supermarkets and health institutions, among a handful of other locations.

On Tuesday, Shtayyeh called on Palestinian workers in Israel to return to the West Bank even though Israel agreed last week to allow them to stay in the territory for one to two months.

“In light of the dangerous, successive developments in Israel and expected measures banning movement, we call on all Palestinian laborers to return to their homes,” he wrote on Facebook, adding that doing so would “protect them and preserve their well-being.”

He made the statement after the number of cases of the virus in Israel surpassed 1900 and before Israeli authorities announced on Wednesday new measures further restricting movement in its cities and towns.

According to PA Labor Minister Nasr Abu Jish, some 40,000 Palestinian workers were planning to spend the next one to two months in Israel.

Israeli authorities agreed last week to allow Palestinians working in “essential sectors” in Israel to spend that period in the country, with their employers finding a place for them to stay.

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