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PA to close schools, partially lock down West Bank as cases double in two weeks

Health officials had recommended a full, two-week lockdown; 24% of tests come back positive Saturday PA PM says major vaccine shipment due in early March

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh at a press conference in Ramallah, February 27, 2021 (WAFA)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh at a press conference in Ramallah, February 27, 2021 (WAFA)

The Palestinian Authority will enact a partial lockdown in the West Bank for the next 12 days after cases more than doubled over the past two weeks, PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Saturday.

The steps will include a closure of all educational institutions; a ban on travel between provinces; a ban on the entry of Arab Israelis; a ban on all parties, weddings and funerals; a nighttime curfew, with all vehicular travel prohibited; and a full lockdown on weekends.

Health officials had called for a “full two-week lockdown” in their recommendations to the prime minister. In televised remarks on Saturday, Shtayyeh did not say why a partial lockdown had been chosen rather than a full one.

“A two-week [total] lockdown would reduce the number of infections, reduce transmission and reduce hospital occupancy,” Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai Al-Kaila had said on Thursday.

A Palestinian security unit mans a checkpoint at the entrance of the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

According to the PA Health Ministry, there are currently 12,015 active cases in the West Bank. Two weeks ago, there were only 5,971 West Bank cases, the Health Ministry reported.

Around 24 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive across the West Bank on Saturday. In some governorates, this has risen as high as 30% over the past few days.

In the Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, the impending closure on the entry of Palestinians living within the Green Line sparked a rush on stores in West Bank Palestinian areas.

“Everyone went off to the West Bank today to go shopping before the impending closure. It’s what people can afford — the shekel goes much farther there,” local leader Omar Atiyeh remarked to The Times of Israel.

While Israel has surged ahead in vaccinating its population, potentially allowing it to avoid a fourth wave, Palestinians have yet to obtain a significant amount of vaccines, although some medical staff have been vaccinated.

Shtayyeh said the first major batch of vaccines to reach the Palestinians — part of a two-million-dose deal inked with the British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca — would arrive in the first week of March.

“We’ve paid for $10 million in doses. We had expected them to arrive by the end of February, but there has been a delay associated with the manufacturing company, not with us,” Shtayyeh said.

The decision to impose new restrictions was made in response to a surge of cases throughout the West Bank in recent days. The health system has been under strain as the number of cases in intensive care reached new heights.

PA officials said Thursday that around 62 percent of ventilators are in use, setting a new record since the beginning of the pandemic. Across the West Bank, around 85.6% of hospital beds were in use.

A Palestinian security unit mans a checkpoint at the entrance to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

After weeks in which the virus’s curve was relatively stable, even declining, a third wave of the pandemic has surged in recent days among West Bank Palestinians.

Health officials have blamed the rapid rise in infections on more contagious mutations of the virus. A recent random survey by the PA Health Ministry found that of 460 randomly tested patients, 352 had been infected with the so-called British variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom.

“What makes this stage different is the quick spread of the virus. We’re seeing situations in which whole families are being infected,” said Dr. Shadi al-Laham, who directs the Bethlehem governorate for the PA Health Ministry.

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