Palestinian West Bank residents saw the deadliest day since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on Friday, with five deaths and 331 new cases in the past 24 hours, the Palestinian Authority health ministry said.
At the end of May, the PA seemed to have successfully flattened the curve in the West Bank — the lockdown had begun early, and only a few hundred infections had been confirmed. With the end of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh hailed the end of restrictions as a return to “normal life,” while emphasizing that the PA was ready to reinstate a lockdown if necessary.
The Palestinian Authority has since entered a second wave whose toll far exceeds the first. There are currently 4,977 active cases in the West Bank, the vast majority of which surfaced in the past three weeks. And, there have been 25 deaths in the second wave, nearly all of them in Hebron governorate, which has emerged as the epicenter of the West Bank’s outbreak.
“The situation in Hebron has reached a dangerous stage. There’s absolutely no control over the virus. Things are getting really bad,” a Palestinian health official told The Times of Israel earlier this week.
Last Friday, the PA ordered a five-day lockdown across the West Bank after two weeks of rapidly mounting cases. All businesses, except for pharmacies and grocery stores, were shut down and residents were asked to stay at home. With the number of cases showing no sign of going down, the lockdown was extended for another five days on Wednesday.
PA health minister Mai al-Kaila in a press conference Friday morning announced that supermarkets would also be closed on Friday and Saturday in Hebron in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
“We’re not floundering around,” al-Kaila said, in response to questions from reporters about the last-minute change. “We’re acting based on intensive study of the situation in Palestine.”
The health ministry has recommended that the lockdown be extended for another 14 days beginning last Wednesday.
The Gaza Strip has seemingly successfully kept the virus at bay, registering only a few cases. Seventy-two have been confirmed, with most of them dating back months; only 11 coronavirus cases are currently active in the Strip, according to reports. Hamas, the Palestinian terror group which controls Gaza, says it has been gradually relaxing restrictions on social distancing.
On Tuesday, against the backdrop of public pledges of unity by both Hamas and its rival Fatah, al-Kaila announced that the PA had declined a Hamas proposal to send a Gazan medical delegation to help the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority confront the coronavirus wave. She said that the situation in the West Bank was “under control and that the Gaza Strip needed the doctors more than the West Bank.”