Palestinian Authority reports 528 new coronavirus cases in West Bank
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Palestinian Authority reports 528 new coronavirus cases in West Bank

PA health ministry says the outbreak in the Hebron area is ‘out of control’ and that current 5-day lockdown is likely to be extended

Family members of an imam at a local mosque perform Friday prayers on the rooftop of their house, after the Palestinian Authority shut down mosques due to the coronavirus pandemic, in the West Bank city of Hebron, on July 3, 2020. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
Family members of an imam at a local mosque perform Friday prayers on the rooftop of their house, after the Palestinian Authority shut down mosques due to the coronavirus pandemic, in the West Bank city of Hebron, on July 3, 2020. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority heath ministry on Saturday reported 528 new coronavirus infections over the past day.

An additional 33 cases were confirmed in Israel-administered East Jerusalem, which the PA counts in its official health statistics.

There were currently 3,360 active cases of coronavirus in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, out of 3,835 total infections since the pandemic began, the Ministry said in a statement.

The majority of the active infections, 2,749, were in Hebron governorate, which has emerged as the center of the West Bank outbreak.

PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said Saturday on Palestine TV that the situation in Hebron is “out of control” and that the current five-day lockdown is likely to be extended.

Mask-clad members of the Palestinian Authority’s security forces stop vehicles at a checkpoint in the northern West Bank city of Nablus on July 2, 2020, after the PA reimposed pandemic lockdown measures due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Bethlehem, with 238 cases, has the second highest number of infections, followed by Nablus with 180.

The main Bethlehem coronavirus treatment center has only four ventilators, two of which are already in use, according to the Arabic news agency Ma’an.

Twelve deaths have been reported so far in Palestinian areas — one in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and 11 in the West Bank. The majority of deaths have taken place in the last two weeks since the second wave of the outbreak began in the West Bank.

As cases in the West Bank spike, the PA introduced a five-day lockdown that began Friday.

A woman smokes a water pipe while sitting next to an open window in the northern West Bank city of Nablus on July 2, 2020, after the Palestinian Authority reimposed pandemic lockdown measures due to a recent spike in COVID-19 cases. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

The return to coronavirus lockdown measures in the West Bank came slowly as cases rose, then all at once.

When the lockdown measures were lifted after the Eid al-Fitr holiday in late May, no new cases of the novel coronavirus appeared for several days. Slowly, scattered infections emerged across the area. As further restrictions were lifted — and daily movement was restored between Israel and the West Bank — that trickle became a wave.

PA officials began to say that a new lockdown was “to be expected” if the number of cases continued to rise.

“If we continue to see an escalation in the number of cases, that may lead to a return to lockdown, and this is something to be expected,” PA Interior Ministry spokesperson Ghassan Nimr said in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio on Monday.

Palestinian security forces guard the entrance to the Balata refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus, June 28, 2020. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

In the past week, the scale of the outbreak came into focus, with hundreds of cases diagnosed all over the the West Bank.

PA officials blamed West Bank residents for the renewed spread of the virus, saying they were not appropriately adhering to health and safety rules. Officials said Palestinian residents were attending social events such as weddings and funerals in violation of social-distancing rules.

“There’s no difference in the virus between the first and second waves, the only difference is the lack of adherence [to medical guidelines]. If the situation continues like this and the number of deaths and critical cases mounts, we will see a medical disaster in Palestine. As a matter of fact, we have one already,” health ministry spokesperson Kamal al-Shakhra said.

PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced on Monday that those caught violating social-distancing procedures would be punished by security forces.

Asked to explain why Hebron in particular became the center of the outbreak, Hebron governor Jabarin al-Bakri said movement back and forth across the Green Line was to blame.

“We have 50,000 Palestinian workers who regularly go inside [Israel], and 270,000 Negev residents who come here often, and many residents of Jerusalem have family members here. There’s a lot of mixing with Palestinians who live inside [Israel],” al-Bakri told Palestine TV.

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