PA warns virus outbreak nearing ‘dangerous’ level as cases in village grow
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PA warns virus outbreak nearing ‘dangerous’ level as cases in village grow

Spokesman says 13 new cases found in West Bank village where woman died; Israeli health chief worried by spread among Palestinians: ‘We’re epidemiologically integrated organs’

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian health workers disinfect Palestinian laborers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 25, 2020 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Palestinian health workers disinfect Palestinian laborers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint in Tarqumiya on March 25, 2020 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem announced on Thursday 13 new cases of coronavirus in the central West Bank village of Biddu.

He made the announcement at a press conference in Ramallah a day after a woman in Biddu died after testing positive for the virus.

Palestinian authorities have so far said 84 people in the West Bank and Gaza had tested positive for the virus, including 17 who have recovered and the deceased woman. Nine of the cases have been in Gaza and the remainder in the West Bank.

Milhem said the reason the virus has spread in Biddu was the deceased women’s children, who work in Israel, had contracted the contagion and transmitted it to others.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announcing a series of measures, which he said aim to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Ramallah on March 22, 2020. (Wafa)

He and PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh have called on Palestinians working in Israel to return to their homes and quarantine themselves for two weeks.

Israeli authorities agreed last week to allow Palestinians working in “essential sectors” in Israel to spend one to two months in the country, with their employers finding a place for them to stay.

According to PA Labor Minister Nasr Abu Jish, some 40,000 Palestinian workers were planning to spend that period in Israel.

PA Jerusalem Governor Adnan Ghaith instructed Biddu residents late Wednesday to not leave their homes except for emergencies.

Palestinian health workers handle a coronavirus test sample of Palestinian workers as they cross back from Israel at a checkpoint near Hebron, March 25, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Milhem also warned that the Palestinians were “passing through a decisive phase,” contending that the spread of the virus had started to approach “a dangerous level.”

“We need to act with the maximum level of caution,” he said.

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 8, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier on Thursday, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry, said he was concerned about the spread of the virus among Palestinians.

“We’re epidemiologically integrated organs. What happens there will ultimately happen here,” he told the Knesset’s coronavirus committee.

Shortly after Palestinian health officials 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.

On Sunday, Shtayyeh announced drastic measures significantly restricting freedom of movement across the West Bank. He said that all Palestinians would be required to stay in their homes unless they were going to supermarkets and health institutions, among a handful of other locations.

For the past week, Israel, in coordination with the PA, has also put the West Bank under closure, barring the overwhelming majority of Palestinians from crossing into the country.

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