A member of the Palestinian security forces checks the temperature of a driver on March 24 at a checkpoint in the West Bank town of Hebron. (Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images)

PA Stiffens Lockdown after First COVID-19 Death

Palestinian leaders focus attention on citizens working in Israel after Ramallah-area woman succumbs

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh instructed the PA security forces to further tighten precautionary measures, especially regarding Palestinians working in Israel, following the first death from novel coronavirus in the West Bank.

The deceased, a 60-year-old woman from Biddu village, west of Ramallah, had also infected her daughter and daughter-in-law, the PA Health Ministry announced on Wednesday.

The number of Palestinians infected with coronavirus has reached 86 (including nine in the Gaza Strip), 18 of whom are from Biddu. A total of 17 persons, all from the Bethlehem area, have recovered and been sent to home quarantine for 14 days.

Mahmoud al-Aloul, vice chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told The Media Line that following the first death in the Palestinian territories, the PA would increase the enforcement and severity of preventive measures previously announced by its National Emergencies Committee.

“All citizens must remain in their homes, as there is currently no cure for the coronavirus, only prevention,” he said.

Aloul said Palestinian ministries, institutions, political parties and popular committees were displaying tremendous cooperation in the management and control of the crisis, at least in comparison to other countries in the region, a tribute to the Palestinian people and its leadership.

“Based on the cases we have identified, the virus came from abroad and from the occupying state [Israel], through the Palestinian workers there,” he elaborated. “After the outbreak in Israel, we had to do more to safeguard our lands and protect our citizens.”

The PA tightened measures at crossing points used by workers returning from Israel, as well as measures regarding citizens’ movements between and within Palestinian governorates and cities. In addition, a strict quarantine was imposed on Biddu and the surrounding villages.

Tareef Ashour, spokesperson for the PA Health Ministry, told The Media Line that since the first discovery of the virus in the Palestinian territories, the ministry had conducted daily inspections in cities and villages to monitor implementation of the government’s precautionary strategy, which has three elements.

“The first element concerns the persons suspected of having the virus among arrivals from abroad or those working in Israel, as there are specific measures for the workers that include them answering a survey on their workplaces in Israel, how much they stayed there, and the people they were exposed to,” Ashour explained.

He added that “based on the information provided by a worker, the medical team decided whom to test and whom to place in home quarantine.”

Ashour said that some workers who had entered Israel illegally were avoiding the checkpoints when returning. Popular committees in villages and elsewhere were intervening to prevent this, he said.

“The second element concerns those who are infected but don’t suffer from symptoms of the coronavirus. Medical staff send them to quarantine facilities,” he said. “The third element concerns infected people with symptoms, who are immediately transferred to hospitals for treatment.”

Palestinian cities and villages prepared quarantine locations and improvised hospitals that could accommodate dozens in each area, Ashour added.

“Hotels all over the country are at the disposal of emergency committees during the crisis, in addition to all of the state [institutions]. We have multi-step plans and full cooperation,” he said.

The Palestinian territories recorded its first cases of coronavirus on March 5 in the Bethlehem Governorate, after Palestinians came in contact with Greek tourists, some of whom were found to be infected after returning home.

“After the woman from Biddu died, the situation became more serious and scary. It’s the first case of death because of the corona,” Dahoud, a citizen from Ramallah who asked that his last name not be used, told The Media Line.

He explained that some people were failing to fully comply with government instructions out of lack of awareness.

“That lady [who died] had been sick for a couple of days. Nobody is sure where she went or who she was in contact with. We must stay in our homes – it’s becoming critical,” he said.

“Some people,” he added, “manage to get permits in order to leave home during the curfew. They don’t understand that nobody can fix what might happen to them if they catch the virus.”

Dahoud also pointed out that members of the PA security services can move freely during the curfew.

“I believe the government has to reduce the categories of those who can leave their homes, and shorten the list to include only the essential sectors,” he said.

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