12-day-old Palestinian child becomes latest COVID-19 fatality

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Palestine witnessed the death of its youngest COVID-19 patient on Tuesday, a 12-day-old child from the town of Yatta in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the death toll stood at 47 people and climbing. The vast majority of deaths have been recorded in the West Bank, specifically in Hebron, the epicenter of the outbreak.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the current number of total cases in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem stood at 7,734. Of those cases, at least 6,476 were active, while 1,258 were in recovery. 

Additionally, some 20 patients are reportedly in critical condition and are hooked up to ventilators. 

While these numbers reflect the total cases recorded since the first outbreak in March, the overwhelming majority have been recorded in just the past few weeks. 

Health officials have attributed the current outbreak to a number of reasons, particularly the lack of social distancing following the official of the nearly three-month lockdown at the end of May. 

Since then, weddings, graduation parties, funerals, and other large gatherings have continued relatively unhindered, despite a number of small-scale shutdowns across the West Bank over the past two weeks. 

Data suggest that around 67% of the total cases can be attributed to social gatherings and interactions in office buildings, restaurants, cafes, and banks. 

In light of the rising number of positive cases across the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority attempted to extend the most recent 10-day lockdown across hotspots in the West Bank for another four days, but were met with backlash from citizens and local leaders across several districts. 

In a statement on Monday, PA spokesman Ibrahim Melhem announced a four-day closure extension in Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, and Ramallah, as well as a two-week extension of the ban on non-essential movement between governorates. 

Shortly after the announcement, however, local governors released statements saying that, contrary to the national government’s announcement, they would be allowing certain sectors of their local economy’s to remain open. 

While local governments ensured that they would adhere strictly to health protocols set forward by the Ministry of Health, it has become increasingly clear that the government is either unable, or unwilling to enforce social distancing in public spaces and private businesses. 

The decision by local governments to remain partially open is indicative of the growing tension between the government and the people over how to handle the current outbreak.  

Despite hundreds of cases being recorded every day, and a steadily climbing death toll, people are growing increasingly frustrated over the lockdown and the financial strain it is putting on hundreds of thousands of families. 

A video of a local merchant in the city of Ramallah went viral over the weekend as he screamed in frustration over the fact that, despite contributing “millions of shekels” to the country’s economy through his multiple businesses, he has no more than 20 shekels in his bank account. 

In the video, the man criticizes the government’s decision to re-open the banks, which have reinstated their policy of processing checks. 

Due to the fact that many people have not had a steady source of income over the past few months,whatever checks they may have written have now been bounced, resulting in further debt owed to the bank, and in extreme cases, people getting their accounts shutdown. 

The video has drawn thousands of likes and shares on social media, as it resonated with so many Palestinians who have been out of work for the past few months, and in most cases, have had to survive without any government aid or assistance. 

This mounting economic pressure has even resulted in the partial reopening of places like Hebron, where the coronavirus situation has been described by health officials as “out of control.”

If the current situation continues to escalate, and the number of people requiring hospitalization and intensive care rises, the government will have no choice but to enforce stricter lockdowns, like the ones we saw back in early March.