Is the COVID-19 lockdown loosening too early in Palestine?

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Image: Despite concerns about the coronavirus, Palestinians gather as food is distributed for the holy month of Ramadan in the Shuja’iyya neighborhood of Gaza City on April 28, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)


The Latest:

  • 507 Palestinians have tested positive for COVID-19; 17 in the Gaza Strip; 327 in the West Bank; and 163 in Jerusalem.
  • 4 Palestinians have died of COVID-19 related causes.
  • A total of 32,500 samples have been tested for Palestinian patients in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
  • 15,946 Israelis have tested positive for COVID-19; 222 have died of COVID-19 related causes.
  • The World Bank estimates that The Palestinian Authority’s fiscal deficit may reach $2 billion by the end of 2020.

This week saw a further easing of quarantine measures in the West Bank. However, schools, mosques, churches and most businesses remain closed, and this week also marked the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Typically this is the busiest month out of the year for retail. It’s not uncommon for shops to stay open until midnight in major cities, people visiting relatives throughout the evening and sweet shops with lines out the door. Navigating the pandemic and Ramadan has proved difficult, particularly as restrictions on movement loosened.

“We have moved from the situation of quarantine/movement prevention for everyone to quarantine/movement prevention of only the infected cases and protecting those who are vulnerable,” the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said this week.

Our correspondent in Bethlehem Yumna Patel, reported earlier this week in the Tuesday edition of this newsletter that while major institutions are still closed, people are flocking to the streets. Social distancing is not being rigorously practiced. From Patel:

“In the neighborhood where I live, Ramadan has shockingly turned out to be, for the most part, just like any other year. Yes, the mosque remains closed, but children are playing in the street together, friends are hanging out and playing cards, and families and neighbors are inviting one another over for iftar.”

A home confinement order as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus is posted in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina on April 15, 2020. (Photo: Muhammed Qarout Idkaidek/APA Images)

Alarming Projection for COVID-19 in Palestine

Figure 1. SEIR with f = 0.6, η = 1/7, n = 7, β = 4.55 10-6 et R0 = 1.54. We obtain an estimation of 8095 reported cases and 2919 unreported cases, with a maximum cases on 2020-05-22.

Today, Mondoweiss was honored to run an article by Ahmed Abbes and Ines Abdeljaoued-Tej sharing the results of mathematical models developed by Abdeljaoued-Tej seeking to determine the actual number of COVID-19 cases in Palestine, and predict the course of the epidemic.

Those models generated some alarming numbers. They currently predict between 11,014 and 113,171 cases of COVID-19 in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with a peak of the pandemic expected between May 22 and May 27, 2020.

You can read their article here, and Abdeljaoued-Tej’s original research paper “COVID-19 data analysis and modeling in Palestine” that was published on the preprint service medRxiv earlier this week.

Easing the Lockdown?

This week Israel also continued measures easing the lockdown. The pandemic is more acute in Israel, with over 15,000 testing positive for COVID-19. Today the government ordered a closure on the entire neighborhood of Romema in Jerusalem, two neighborhood in the Bedouin city of Hura, and renewed a closure over the city of Beit Shemesh where clashes broke out earlier this week between residents opposed to quarantine and the police.

Authorities in Israel will no longer be able to track Israelis using GPS data from their phones over suspected exposure to COVID-19. Patel covered the ruling from the High Court:

“The decision on Sunday came after Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel filed a petition to the court against the government’s use of cellular geolocation and other ‘counter-terrorism’ technology to track the whereabouts of patients who tested positive for coronavirus.”

Filling the Supply Gap

A Palestinian doctor wearing a face shield conducts a medical examination in Gaza City on March 10, 2020. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

This week Mondoweiss‘s Allison Deger spoke with Dr. Tarek Loubani, an emergency medicine physician and professor in London, Ontario. Loubani and his Glia project have been featured on our site before. In 2018 his team brought the 3D printing of medical devices to Gaza first used in mass during the Great March of Return. Loubani is once again filling in the gap on supplies for healthcare working, now printing out of his basement face shields for frontline healthcare workers who treat COVID-19 patients.

“Currently in Gaza there is no adequate pipeline for frontline workers, and there is none coming as far we can tell,” Loubani said, speaking of Gaza where his Glia project printed 500 face shields. “And while what is needed is an unrestricted lifting of the blockade on all medical personal and equipment, at the very least right now local promoting is trying to help where it can.”

Odds & Ends

🤦 Jared Kushner’s ever-expanding role behind the scenes heading up the Trump administration’s coronavirus response is the focus of a damning piece this week by Gabriel Sherman in Vanity Fair. The article compares Kushner’s coronavirus response to his Middle East peace plan, where the results speak for themselves.

📺 If you missed it, earlier this week Mondoweiss hosted a livestream event with rights groups Al-Haq and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel about how the Israeli Occupation continues to violate the rights of Palestinians even during the COVID-19 lockdown. You can watch it here.