Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced on Tuesday that movement between Israel and the West Bank would be cut off in three days amid coronavirus fears, the official PA news site Wafa reported.
He also suggested that Palestinian and Israeli authorities had agreed that Palestinians who work in Israel should arrange sleeping accommodations in the Jewish state before the three days elapse, according to the Wafa report.
“The government decided to grant Palestinian laborers in Israel three days to arrange their affairs regarding a place to sleep in their workplaces in coordination with their employers,” the Wafa report quoted Shtayyeh as telling a PA committee dedicated to preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Shtayyeh’s comments came after Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said Tuesday morning that the minister ordered authorities to allow Palestinians working in “essential sectors” in Israel to spend the coming one to two months in the country, with their employers finding a place for them to stay.
Bennett’s office said that “essential sectors” currently include health, agriculture, construction and caregiving, adding that authorities would consider allowing those working in other fields to stay in Israel on a case-by-case basis.
Some 60,000 to 70,000 Palestinians were eligible to cross into Israel and spend the next one to two months in its territory, an Israeli security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel.
Palestinians workers above the age of 50 or those coming from Bethlehem, where more than 30 people have been infected with the virus, will not be allowed entry to Israel, the official said, adding settlers would still be able to move between the Jewish state and the West Bank.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians regularly work in various fields in Israel, such as construction, agriculture, health, among others.
They bring hundreds of millions of shekels into the Palestinian economy every month.
Assaf Adiv, the executive director of Wac Maan, a union that represents both Israeli and Palestinian workers, said a number of Palestinians would be staying in unfinished apartments, while others would be spending their nights in rented accommodations or empty spaces in factories.
Shtayyeh also called on Palestinians who work in West Bank settlements to not go to their workplaces “out of concern for their well-being as well as that of their families and people,” the Wafa report stated, adding that he noted many settlers have been diagnosed with the virus.
The Israeli security official said that Palestinians laborers in “essential sectors” would be allowed to go to their workplaces in settlements and return home on the same day.
Meamwhile, Palestinian authorities said that, as of Tuesday, there were a total of 41 confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank — 37 in Bethlehem and 4 in other areas. However, they said that the condition of 20 cases has begun to improve.
Shortly after Palestinian health authorities confirmed the first cases in the West Bank in early March, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency for 30 days.
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.
In the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Hamas authorities began building facilities to quarantine Palestinians returning to the coastal enclave.
There have yet to be any confirmed cases of coronavirus in the area, but officials have been taking measures to prepare for the possibility that the infection could reach the crowded Strip.
Five hundred rooms were being arranged in northern Gaza as well as an additional 500 in the southern part, an official in the Rafah Municipality said, according to the Hamas-affiliated al-Resalah.
Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, who had not been seen publicly in recent weeks, visited the quarantine site in the southern part of the coastal enclave on Tuesday.
The decision to build the new compounds came after protests took place in Rafah on Saturday against efforts to set up a quarantine facility in a local school.
In early March, Abdelnaser Soboh, the head of the WHO’s sub-office in Gaza, said the Strip’s health infrastructure would not be able to handle hundreds or thousands of coronavirus cases.
“The health system in Gaza is already shaky and barely functioning. It cannot take on the burden of a large number of cases,” he told The Times of Israel, warning that such a scenario could contribute to its collapse.
Hospitals in Gaza frequently lack sufficient medications and medical equipment and often rely on backup generators to maintain a consistent flow of power.
Soboh said that the health institutions in Gaza carry a total of 2,500 beds and some 50-60 ventilators for adults.
One of the symptoms experienced by many diagnosed with the virus has been difficulty breathing.