Palestinian in Israeli jail diagnosed with virus; detainee and staff quarantined

Prisoner was alone in cell for 2 days, Prisons Service says; officials have long expressed concerns over a possible outbreak in prison system

A view of the entrance to the Russian Compound detention center in Jerusalem, March 12. 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: A view of the entrance to the Russian Compound detention center in Jerusalem, March 12. 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A 21-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank who was arrested by Israel and brought to a Jerusalem jail on Wednesday was on Friday confirmed to have the coronavirus.

He has been transferred to a quarantined ward in the detention facility, the Israel Prisons Service said, without giving the reason behind the man’s arrest.

The Israel Prisons Service said the man had been alone in a cell for two days and that officials were checking who he came into contact with during his arrest and arrival at the facility.

Staff who were confirmed to have been in contact with him will be quarantined, the Prisons Service said. The Kan public broadcaster said seven staff members were sent into isolation.

Illustrative — Security prisoners during a visiting session in the Ofer Prison facility near Ramallah, August 20, 2008. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

An IPS spokeswoman clarified that the detainee had contracted the virus outside of the prison and had been held in a separate cell while authorities waited for his test results to come back, thereby ensuring that he did not come in contact with other inmates.

Concerns have been long expressed that the virus could spread rapidly within a closed prison environment.

Last month the cabinet approved a measure to release some 500 inmates to house arrest for the final month of their terms to reduce the risk of a coronavirus outbreak in jails. The measure applied only to Israeli residents serving time for criminal activities, and not for security or terror inmates, sex offenders or perpetrators of severe violence. They have to have been serving less than four-year sentences and due for release in less than 30 days, the IPS clarified.

On March 17, Israel’s prisons were shut off from the outside world with prisoners not able to receive visits, meet with their attorneys or go on furloughs, according to the IPS.

There have been 480 confirmed coronavirus cases among Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, including six new cases confirmed, Palestinian Health Minister Mai Alkaila said Thursday.

Since the start of the crisis, two West Bank Palestinians have died as well as two East Jerusalem Palestinians, according to Alkaila.

She said 75 percent of the cases had been traced to workers who spent time in Israel.

Muslims in Israel and the Palestinian territories have begun the holy month of Ramadan without visits to mosques or festive communal meals as the Islamic world struggles to balance the demands of religion with public safety in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus.

Palestinians pack boxes with food that will be distributed to poor Palestinian families ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, in Nablus, West Bank, April 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

On Wednesday, Israel’s government approved emergency measures placing nighttime curfews on Muslim-majority towns, and in Ramallah Palestinian Authority officials said mosques would remain shuttered and called on people to avoid getting together for the holiday.

With traditional, communal meals for the poor, large fast-breaking dinners with family and friends called iftars, and cultural events after sunset canceled, the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims find themselves cut off from much of what makes the month special as authorities fight the pandemic.

Muslims traditionally refrain from eating and drinking during the day during Ramadan, only breaking their fasts after sundown.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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