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PA extends lockdown restrictions as infections remain high in West Bank

Tighter rules set to be in effect for another two weeks; Gaza health official warns coronavirus spreading in Strip, hospitals could turn away patients

Palestinian police check cars in Ramallah as part of enforcing a coronavirus lockdown on January 1, 2021 (WAFA)
Palestinian police check cars in Ramallah as part of enforcing a coronavirus lockdown on January 1, 2021 (WAFA)

The Palestinian Authority entered another two weeks of heightened restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus in the West Bank on Sunday night after a late December lockdown failed to stop the spread of the virus.

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced on Saturday afternoon that Ramallah was instituting another two weeks of lockdown. PA officials had been warning for several days that the West Bank coronavirus infections have not been reined in despite the restrictions, making an extension of the lockdown likely.

As of Sunday afternoon, West Bank Palestinians had 8,248 active cases, a significant drop from the third wave’s peak in PA areas, of around 14,000 active cases. In a decline from previous days, only about 523 new infections were identified in Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

About 12% of coronavirus tests came back positive in the West Bank over the past 24 hours, indicating that many cases of the virus were likely going undetected. But while relatively high, it was a significant decrease from previous weeks, which have seen between 20%-30% of tests come back positive in Palestinian Authority areas.

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)

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Health Ministry told Palestine TV last Wednesday, however, that some areas were reporting that as many as 30% of tests were returning positive each day.

According to the plan presented by Shtayyeh, the restrictions will be extended but remain largely the same: universities and schools will mostly remain closed and movement between different West Bank Palestinian governorates is banned. A nightly curfew will continue across Palestinian Authority areas, including a total lockdown on Fridays and Saturdays.

One policy has changed: elementary school students and high school seniors will be allowed to head back to in-person instruction. Shtayyeh said in a statement that it was expected that the remaining students would “head back to school after two [more] 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)

In the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Hamas terror group, a month of tighter restrictions — including both a nightly curfew and a weekend total lockdown — seems to have failed to reverse the spread of the virus.

Following a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, the Gaza Strip’s hospital capacity is now 80 percent full, senior Gaza health official Fathi Abu Warda said on Saturday night. While some days were better than others, Abu Warda acknowledged, the overall trend was for the worse.

“The coronavirus curve is still rising, and it zigzags from one day to the next. The number of positive coronavirus tests over the past week has reached between 30 and 40 percent,” Abu Warda said in a statement.

Abu Warda warned of “a stage where the hospitals will no longer be able to accept patients.”

As of Sunday night, there were 9,938 confirmed active coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Around 17.5% of tests came back positive in the past 24 hours, the ministry reported.

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