Gaza official suspended after reporters tour virus hospital

Virus cases top 100 in West Bank and Gaza after infections emerge in more towns

PA premier says China will send Palestinians aid for virus testing and ventilators; Gaza quarantine to be extended from 14 to 21 days

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh addressing a press conference in Ramallah on March 29, 2020. (Wafa)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh addressing a press conference in Ramallah on March 29, 2020. (Wafa)

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip passed 100 on Sunday after infections emerged in villages where Palestinian authorities had not previously reported them.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh told a press conference in Ramallah that two Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus — one in Hebron and another in Qatana, a village north of Jerusalem — raising the total number of confirmed cases to 106.

Shtayyeh’s statement came after his spokesman Ibrahim Milhem announced early Sunday that six people in Qatana and another in al-Qabeiba, another village north of Jerusalem, were confirmed to be carrying the virus.

Palestinian authorities have said that, as of Sunday, 18 of the 106 people who contracted the virus recovered and that one died; the overwhelming majority of the cases have been in the West Bank.

The PA premier also said that China would imminently deliver “aid related to test kits” for the virus and several ventilators to the Palestinians, without elaborating on quantities.

“We are undertaking efforts with the whole world to fill our needs in terms of test kits and ventilators,” he said. “Within two days, there will be a plane from China landing in the ’48 lands [Israel], carrying aid for us, our neighbors, Jordan and others.”

Health authorities in some parts of Europe reported late last week that test kits their countries received from China were faulty.

The Palestinians have thus far undertaken 5,869 tests for the virus in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the PA Health Ministry.

Medical institutions possess 295 ventilators — 175 in the West Bank and 120 in Gaza — a report published by the PA on March 26 said.

Shtayyeh also called on Palestinians to “reflect” on their expenses, noting the PA did not know what would transpire in the coming months.

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.

Last week, Shtayyeh unveiled 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.

A member of the Palestinian Authority security forces taking the temperature of a man in Beit Sahour on March 29, 2020. (Credit: Wafa)

On Sunday he also said that 35,000 Palestinians working in Israel would return to the West Bank in the coming two weeks and said they need to enter isolation in their homes upon their return.

Meanwhile, Ashraf al-Qidra, the spokesman of the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, announced on Saturday that it was decided to extend the stay of Palestinians in quarantine facilities in the coastal enclave from 14 to 21 days.

He explained the decision by noting that there was data from the international community that indicate people might carry the virus for more than two weeks.

Before Qidra’s statement, the Health Ministry in Gaza had only required Palestinians returning from abroad to remain in isolation for 14 days.

One thousand seven hundred nineteen Palestinians were in quarantine facilities around Gaza, and none were in home isolation, the ministry said on Saturday.

Qidra also stated that Tawfiq Abu Naim, the head of the Hamas-run internal security forces, and Mahmoud Abu Watfa, his deputy, tested negative for COVID-19.

Last Sunday, Salama Maroof, the head of the Hamas-controlled government media office, said Abu Naim and Abu Watfa were put in quarantine after coming close to two people in Gaza who were infected with the virus.

Maroof was also suspended from his position on Saturday. He had announced a day earlier that an investigative committee was established to look into how journalists were permitted to report from a hospital where people infected with the virus in Gaza were staying.

“My ethics and understanding of government work require me to respect the decision to suspend me from my work until the completion of the investigation,” he said in a Facebook post. “I am completely ready to take responsibility, if any neglect in the performance of my duty is found.”

The journalists from TRT, a Turkish outlet, and Watania, a Gaza-based news site, were placed in home quarantine, Qidra said on Saturday.

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