COVID-19 in Palestine: The virus is back with a vengeance

Three months after the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in the West Bank, a new wave of the virus is hitting Palestine, even stronger than the first time around.
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Three months after the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in the West Bank, a new wave of the virus is hitting Palestine, even stronger than the first time around. 

Over the past 48 hours, more than 100 cases of the virus have been confirmed in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip — and that number continues to rise. The current number of active cases in those three territories, as of Friday evening, was 271. 

On Thursday alone, 50 new cases were reported, with more than 90% in the southern West bank district of Hebron. It was the first time in weeks that the Ministry of Health recorded COVID-19 cases in the double digits. 

On Friday, there were at least 70 new cases reported. By Friday evening that number continued to grow.  

It was the single largest amount of new cases reported in a day since the first outbreak of the virus back in March, when just over 40 cases were reported in the city of Bethlehem.

This time around, however, the Bethlehem governorate, once the epicenter of the outbreak, has seen very few cases of the virus so far.

The Hebron district, the largest district in the West Bank, is gearing up to be the new epicenter of COVID-19 in Palestine, with a stunning majority of the cases reported there. Trailing behind Hebron is the Nablus district in the northern West Bank, which has reported at least 20 cases of the virus. 

According to reports from Wafa, the official Palestinian Authority new agency, dozens of new cases have been traced back to Palestinian laborers who work in Israel. 

Since the Eid holidays at the end of May, most laborers have returned back to their pre-covid routines, meaning they go and come back between the West Bank and Israel for work every day. 

When the virus first arrived in Palestine in early March, workers’ movements between the West Bank and Israel were a huge point of contention given the risk of transmission that they posed. 

Up until last month, the PA was working with Israel to track the entrance and exit of workers in order to ensure that they were tested and quarantined upon return home. 

But with security coordination between Israel and the PA at a halt, the lack of coordination over the movements of the laborers has caused the spread of the virus to spiral, seemingly beyond the control of the Ministry of Health. 

Until now, it remains unclear how many tests the Ministry of Health is conducting on a daily basis, leading to fears that the actual number of cases could be much higher than reported. 

Despite the quickly deteriorating situation in the West Bank, the PA seems to be dragging its feet.  Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh has yet to announce a national lockdown, seemingly leaving the decision to shut down up to each governorate — the only one to partially shut down so far has been the Nablus district. 

Districts like Bethlehem and Hebron remain opened to one another, with people commuting between cities across the West Bank unhindered, while retail shops, restaurants, and streets remain crowded in places like Bethlehem.

Shtayyeh and his officials have been touting their “strict health protocols” to the media for weeks now, but the reality on the ground couldn’t be further from the narrative being pushed by the government. Social distancing orders are not being enforced,  people are not being fined for not wearing masks or gloves, and there’s little to no police checkpoints in sight. 

The government’s laid back approach to the virus this time around is a drastic departure from its aggressive containment efforts the first time around. 

While the government is under an immense amount of pressure to keep the economy open this time around, one can’t help but wonder, is it worth the cost of thousands of people getting sick, the healthcare system most certainly collapsing, and so many more people dying?

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Coronavirus update:
Israel: active cases:4,783
fatalities: 306

PA: active cases:391
fatalities: 3

We’re seeing a disturbing spike in new cases.