COVID-19 Infections Continue to Spike in the Palestinian Authority Territories (Updated to June 25, 2020)

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The Palestinian security forces in Hebron ramp up preventive measures in the district following the local spike in the spread of the virus (Wafa, June 23, 2020).

The Palestinian security forces in Hebron ramp up preventive measures in the district following the local spike in the spread of the virus (Wafa, June 23, 2020).

Teams from the Hebron municipality disinfect public facilities (Facebook page of the Hebron municipality, June 23, 2020).

Teams from the Hebron municipality disinfect public facilities (Facebook page of the Hebron municipality, June 23, 2020).

Overview

The numbers of coronavirus infections in the Palestinian Authority (PA) continue to spike, part of what the Palestinian ministry of health considers a second wave of COVID-19. On the afternoon of June 25, 2020, the number of active cases stood at 889, an increase of 71 cases in 48 hours. During the week beginning June 18, 2020 the number of patients in Judea and Samaria increased by 5.5. According to a report, most patients are in stable condition, with the exception of one man from Hebron in an ICU. The Palestinian ministry of health reported that 21 medical professionals have been infected (Dunia al-Watan, June 24, 2020). PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said the second wave of COVID-19 infections had occurred sooner than expected, but he claimed the PA had situation under control (Wafa, June 24, 2020).

Spike in COVID-19 infections in Judea and Samaria during the past nine days

Spike in COVID-19 infections in Judea and Samaria during the past nine days

Rise in active COVID-19 cases in the PA territories

Rise in active COVID-19 cases in the PA territories

Rise in overall cases since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the PA territories

Rise in overall cases since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the PA territories

  • Most of the active cases were detected in the Hebron district, where so far 792 cases have been reported (89% of the total number in Judea and Samaria). As for active cases the other districts, there are 38 in Bethlehem, 37 in Nablus, nine in Ramallah, four in Jenin, four in Tulkarm, three in Salfit and two in Jericho. The number of active cases in east Jerusalem has risen as well, and now stands at 42; since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak there have been 219 cases in east Jerusalem (Facebook page of the Palestinian ministry of health, June 23-25, 2020).
Analysis of the Data
  • The spike in the infection in Jerusalem parallels that in Israel. In ITIC assessment that is because of the frequent physical interaction between Palestinians and Israelis, such as the daily passage back and forth of Palestinian workers, the entrance of illegal workers into Israel territory, the entrance of Israeli Arabs into Judea and Samaria, the passage of local residents throughout Jerusalem and the delivery of merchandise. However, the PA’s declared policy of ending coordination and cooperation with Israel made preventing mutual infection more difficult. According to a new survey from Khalil Shqaqi’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, “A two-third majority (67%) agrees with the cooperation and coordination in the health sector which took place between the PA and Israel during the period in which the Coronavirus was spreading…”[1]
  • Since Eid al-Fitr, which ended the Muslim religious month of Ramadan (May 23-24, 2020), the PA has found it difficult to reimpose the preventive measures of the first wave of COVID-19 infection, which peaked at the beginning of May 2020. Even in Hebron, the epicenter of the spread of the disease, owners of reception venues held protest rallies to demand they be allowed to reopen their businesses (Palinfo Twitter account, June 24, 2020). The head of the local council in the village of Taffuh (where there are 200 verified active cases) claimed the village had not received any aid from the Palestinian ministry of health. Villages in the Hebron district reported there was a lack of both manpower to enforce the lockdown and of medical facilities.
  • As opposed to the sharp spike in the number of coronavirus cases in the PA territories in Judea and Samaria, and despite the great potential for transmission of the infection, Hamas has so far successfully prevented an uncontrolled spread of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip (the number of active cases continues to stand at 15). That is probably because of how relatively easy it is to isolate the Gaza Strip using a combination of effective preventive measures (preventing Gazans from entering Israel, strict supervision and control of Palestinians entering Gaza through the Rafah and Erez Crossings). If Hamas continues preventing the spread of coronavirus inside Gaza, it may increase the organization’s public prestige, since the Gazans are fully aware of how much better their situation is compared to the swelling number of infections in the PA territories in Judea and Samaria.

The date for the imposition of Israeli sovereignty on parts of Judea and Samaria, the object of a Palestinian campaign, is approaching. The spike in the number of coronavirus cases and the economic difficulties it creates continue to be the focus of attention for most Palestinians. That creates problems for Mahmoud Abbas and the PA in coping politically with Israel’s move and coping medically with the coronavirus at the same time.

Preventive Activity in the PA

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called for the new coronavirus wave to be halted through preventive measures, including a ban on gatherings, obligatory social distancing, wearing face masks, meeting standards of general and personal hygiene, and following the directives of the government, security forces and public health officials (Palestinian TV, June 24, 2020).

  • At a meeting with Jamie McGoldrick, UN deputy special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, and resident and humanitarian coordinator; and with the director of the regional W.H.O. office, PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said that the second wave of the coronavirus had arrived sooner than expected, but claimed “matters are under control.” In addition to taking pinpoint measures in the districts where many COVID-19 cases have been detected, Muhammad Shtayyeh banned all mass events, including weddings, throughout Judea and Samaria (Dunia al-Watan, June 23, 2020). The Palestinian ministry of Muslim endowments banned all the Friday prayers and sermons in the mosques in the PA territories. However according to the ministry, other prayers can be held in the mosques as usual, in accordance with public health procedures and guidelines (Wafa, June 24, 2020).
  • The PA is imposing particularly strict preventive measures in the Hebron district, especially in the village of Taffuh (west of Hebron), which is a hotspot of infection with 200 verified cases (about one quarter of all the cases in the district). Mai al-Kayla, PA minister of health, declared Taffuh a “disaster zone.”
  • Mahmoud Arziqat, head of the Taffuh municipality, said the heads of the local municipalities in the district were being pressured by residents, claiming that so far no help or support had been received from the Palestinian ministry of health (Ma’an, June 24, 2020). Hebron mayor Tayseer Abu Sneineh, speaking for heads of all the local municipalities in the Hebron district, called for the entire district to be declared a disaster zone. That was because, he said, 90% of the district’s municipalities could not meet their needs due to of a lack of manpower and employment open for medical personnel (Ma’an, June 24, 2020).
  • On the ground, operatives of the Palestinian security forces supervise the conduct of the residents according to precautionary rules. In the Hebron district they closed 55 businesses whose owners opened contrary to the instructions issued by the district governor, and legal measures were taken against them (Ma’an, June 24, 2020).
The Palestinian security forces in Hebron ramp up preventive measures in the district following the local spike in the spread of the virus (Wafa, June 23, 2020).   The Palestinian security forces in Hebron ramp up preventive measures in the district following the local spike in the spread of the virus (Wafa, June 23, 2020).
The Palestinian security forces in Hebron ramp up preventive measures in the district following the local spike in the spread of the virus (Wafa, June 23, 2020).
Teams from the Hebron municipality disinfect public facilities (Facebook page of the Hebron municipality, June 23, 2020).    Teams from the Hebron municipality disinfect public facilities (Facebook page of the Hebron municipality, June 23, 2020).
Teams from the Hebron municipality disinfect public facilities
(Facebook page of the Hebron municipality, June 23, 2020).

[1] http://www.pcpsr.org/sites/default/files/Poll%2076%20English%20press%20release%20%D9%8D_June%202020.pdf



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