Gaza loosens virus restrictions as West Bank sees slight uptick in cases

Hamas to release more than 1,000 people from quarantine, permits mosques to reopen; villages around Qalqilya locked down to prevent spread of coronavirus

Members of the Higher Council for Emergencies, Qalqilya, discuss details of the new spike in cases in the governorate on June 2, 2020 (Qalqilya Governorate Facebook)
Members of the Higher Council for Emergencies, Qalqilya, discuss details of the new spike in cases in the governorate on June 2, 2020 (Qalqilya Governorate Facebook)

Two new cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in Qalqilya in the West Bank on Tuesday, as the Gaza Strip prepared to release 1461 recently returned residents from quarantine by the end of the week.

Health authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza and in the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank have been easing restrictions over the last week, even with a slight uptick in confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank.

Thirty three cases have been confirmed since lockdown restrictions were eased last Wednesday, mostly in villages surrounding Qalqilya in the northwestern West Bank. Azzun Atma was the center of the spike in cases, with the first diagnoses on May 28; the village was immediately locked down and remains closed off as of Tuesday, the local governorate announced on its Facebook page.

Despite that,  authorities continued to ease restrictions. The Palestinian Ministry of Health launched a campaign to #Coexist_With_Corona, releasing conditions for the reopening of hair salons, movie theaters and dentist offices.

However, officials were also concerned about Palestinian workers traveling into Israel on a daily basis. Israel has seen a recent spike in infections since starting to open up. They have said that a majority majority of infections during the first wave in PA areas were the result of Palestinians employed in Israel returning home.

A paramedic from the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health disinfects Palestinian laborers to help contain the coronavirus, as they exit an Israeli army checkpoint after returning from work in Israel, near the West Bank village of Nilin, west of Ramallah, April 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

The recent spike of infections in Azzun Atma were the result of exposure to one such worker returning from inside Israel, PA spokesperson Ibrahim Milhim said in a statement.

Currently, 23 active cases remain in East Jerusalem, 17 in Hebron and 16 in Qalqilya, according to Palestinian Minister of Health Mai al-Kaila.

Announcing the easing of restrictions last Monday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the PA was ready to reinstate the lockdown measures in the event of a second wave. “If, God forbid, we see further infections, we are prepared to bring back all of the restrictions,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the isolated Gaza Strip, officials were was preparing to release 1461 people placed in quarantine by the end of the week, Gazan health official Majdi Duheir said in a statement on Tuesday.

All 348 of the quarantined Gazans tested for coronavirus in the last 24 hours have turned up negative.

An ambulance drives past a member of the Hamas security forces wearing protective gear as a precaution against the coronavirus, at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 13, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)

“We’re in the eye of the danger, which requires us to concentrate our efforts to keep our community free of coronavirus,” Hamas Health Spokesperson Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra said in a statement.

Despite thousands of infections in both Israel and the West Bank, the Gaza Strip has managed to avoid an outbreak within its borders. All arrivals at the Strip have been detained at the border and placed in quarantine. Non-residents are still banned from entering Gaza.

Israel and Egypt impose a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas and other terror groups from importing arms and material to build fortifications and attack tunnels.

Most of the Gazans currently in quarantine arrived in the last two weeks from Egypt, according to Hamas-issued statistics. 61 confirmed cases have been detected among new arrivals in Gaza since the beginning of March, of which 42 are still being treated in an isolation hospital by Rafah checkpoint. Only one Gazan, a 77-year old woman from Rafah, has died.

Despite what al-Qidra called “worrying signs around us,” Palestinian policymakers and business owners in Gaza are ready to begin planning for life after lockdown, Hamas officials said on Tuesday.

“The Interior Ministry is holding meetings with service providers and sector heads starting tomorrow, to bring them into the picture of the necessary measures and criteria to to prepare for the opening of those sectors,” Hamas Interior Ministry Spokesperson Iyad al-Bazam said in a statement.

Palestinians wearing face masks attend the last Friday noon Prayer of the holy month of Ramadan, in a mosque in Gaza City, Friday, May 22, 2020. After nearly two months of closure due to the coronavirus, Gaza’s Hamas rulers decided to partially reopen mosques for the Friday noon prayer. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Mosques in Gaza will reopen for the dawn prayer on Wednesday, Gaza Minister of Religious Artifacts Dr. Abd al-Hadi Agha said on Monday. Gazan mosques did not see the total lockdown that the PA instituted in the West Bank, with Hamas authorities opening mosques for holiday and Friday prayers multiple times over the two-month lockdown.

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