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PA announces two-week closure throughout West Bank as virus surges

While not as strict as prior lockdowns, new restrictions will see all schools, restaurants and gyms close; government ministries and some other shops will continue at 30% capacity

A street coffee vendor walks by closed shops amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in the West Bank town of Hebron on December 11, 2020 (HAZEM BADER / AFP)
A street coffee vendor walks by closed shops amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in the West Bank town of Hebron on December 11, 2020 (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

The Palestinian Authority announced a two-week closure in the entire West Bank Thursday evening, after three weeks of tightening restrictions failed to curb the coronavirus outbreak among its residents.

“We know that lockdown has a negative impact on the economy. When we’re given the choice between the lives of you and your loved ones, and between financial profits generated by economic activities, we absolutely chose the former,” PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a statement to the populace.

All schools, universities, restaurants, barbershops, gyms and leisure venues in the West Bank will be closed starting Thursday night, Shtayyeh said. As part of the lockdown, a nightly curfew will be extended for another two weeks, beginning on Thursday night. The West Bank has been under a nightly curfew since early December.

The new closure will not be as strict as some previous lockdowns, in which all shops were closed except for pharmacies and grocery stores. However, any stores and government offices not closed by the official decree will have to work with no more than 30 percent of their normal staff, Shtayyeh said.

Entering and leaving Israel for work will be banned, Shtayyeh said. Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel for work on a daily basis, most of whom work in construction and agriculture.

The PA can do little to enforce such a ban, as the decision to close checkpoints is in Israel’s hands, not Ramallah’s. Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, declined to comment.

Some Palestinians have been critical of the return to lockdown since Palestinian officials began warning that it could come about, contending that previous closures have been ineffective while damaging the economy.

Shtayyeh claimed that $13 million had been budgeted to compensate workers for their losses in the coming lockdown.

Four West Bank governorates — Nablus, Bethlehem, Hebron and Tulkarem — have already been under lockdown for around ten days.

But those measures have not managed to lower high infection numbers among West Bank Palestinians. There are currently 14,589 active coronavirus cases in the West Bank.

Moreover, consistently high numbers of tests are coming back positive — a sign that the true rate of the virus’s spread may be much higher. Around 16% of tests came back positive on Thursday, the PA Health Ministry reported.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh removes his protective mask during a press conference at the Foreign Press Association in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on June 9, 2020. (Abbas Momani/Pool Photo via AP)

Around 1,078 Palestinians have died from coronavirus in the West Bank and Gaza since the start of the pandemic, according to the PA Health Ministry. The Jerusalem municipality reported on Thursday that a total of 121 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem had also passed away due to the virus.

Since the tight restrictions will continue for another two weeks, West Bank Palestinians will officially celebrate Christmas under lockdown. Shtayyeh did not announce any policy guidelines outlining how churches would celebrate the holiday during the lockdown.

Coalitions of business owners have warned for weeks that they would oppose a return to total lockdown on economic grounds.

“Our stance on total and partial lockdowns is clear, given the negative effects and enormous losses they impose upon the Palestinian economy,” the Palestinian Chambers of Commerce Association wrote in an open letter in early December.

Hundreds of Palestinians gathered on multiple occasions over the past week to protest against the coronavirus restrictions in Hebron.

The lockdown has “enormous and destructive dimensions. It will have social repercussions. It may even open the path to compromising civic peace,” Hebron mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh said last week.

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