One hundred and sixty-eight new coronavirus infections were confirmed in the West Bank on Monday afternoon, Palestinian government spokesperson Ibrahim Milhim said, the highest single-day increase in cases since the start of the pandemic.
The West Bank has witnessed a concerning spike in cases over the past week, with Palestinian health officials saying that they may be entering a “second wave.”
To prevent the spread of the virus, social gatherings were banned across the West Bank on Saturday, and two governorates — Hebron and Nablus — have been placed under lockdown. Hebron has emerged as the epicenter of the outbreak, registering at least 113 of the 168 new infections, mostly in the villages of Halhoul and Tafouh.
Mosques and churches were closed again across the West Bank and Palestinians were instead urged to pray at home. Public demand to pray in mosques caused friction between West Bank Palestinians and security forces during the previous lockdown.
The ban on social gatherings, however, did not prevent Fatah from holding a major rally in the Jordan Valley against Israel’s plans to annex sections of the West Bank.
Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub at a Sunday press conference called for the demonstration to be conducted in accordance with the Palestinian Health ministry guidelines
Images from the demonstration, however, showed little social distancing in evidence among the crowds.
The new wave of infections was particularly dangerous, Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said, because many of the sources remained unknown.
“What will make this second wave more dangerous than the first is the number of virus hotspots of unknown origin and the number of infected medical personnel,” al-Kaila said on Wednesday, adding that three doctors in Nablus were among the newly infected.
Palestinian health officials said they were attempting to exploit the lockdown to run tests and generate a “pandemic map” that would enable them to track and trace the spread of cases in areas they control.
The surge began on Wednesday, when 45 new cases, then the highest daily total, were confirmed by the Palestinian Health Ministry. The total number of West Bank cases now stands at 903 confirmed infections. Two West Bank residents have died from the novel coronavirus, according to Palestinian Health ministry statistics.
The new wave of infections finds the West Bank in a more delicate position than during the previous lockdown in April and May. The PA is now in the grip of a major financial crisis and has been unable to pay its employees — whose wages constitute around 20 percent of Palestinian GDP — for weeks.
Last week, Ramallah rejected the transfer of tax revenues it receives every month from Israel, which amounted to around 85% of its budget after the coronavirus crisis began in March. In April, it received double the usual cash transfer from the Israeli government, according to Palestinian Authority financial reports.