For Now, the Palestinian Authority is in Control of the Coronavirus Spread
Since the discovery of COVID-19, the Palestinian Authority has dealt with the situation very seriously, monitoring the health situation in the Palestinian territories.
On March 5, immediately after the detection of the first coronavirus cases in Bethlehem, which was due to a tourist group, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared a state of emergency. The government imposed a total closure, isolating Bethlehem from the rest of the West Bank. A quarantine was then imposed on the city, and all those who tested positive were isolated in the Angel Hotel in nearby Beit Jala, which became a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients.
After the spread of the disease by workers coming from Israel, especially in the villages in occupied Jerusalem and its suburbs, the government prevented movement among the various governorates, and between villages and the main cities. It closed schools, universities, churches and mosques, as well as cafes, restaurants, sports clubs and event halls, preventing gatherings for any reason. It also closed border crossings, especially with Jordan.
On March 22, the government imposed a total curfew on all the West Bank. It closed places of employment except for vital facilities providing people with essential supplies such as food and fuel, as well as medical support. Banks continued to work in an emergency capacity, with few workers.
The only sectors still at work are health (the Ministry of Health and healthcare professionals), security (agencies overseeing the state of emergency and quarantine) and municipalities. In addition, volunteers are assisting the security services, especially in Area C, where the PA is unable to function due to the area being under full Israeli control.
Generally, the country is witnessing a state of conscious discipline. Citizens coming from abroad are sent to dedicated quarantine facilities, where they are tested for coronavirus. People testing positive are sent for treatment close to their place of residence.
The educational system has adapted to the state of emergency. Schools and universities are offering on-line classes in an attempt to cope with the situation.
As for the Gaza Strip, despite a delay by Hamas – for political reasons – in applying a state of emergency, the situation appears good. The borders with Egypt and Israel have been secured, and all arrivals have been quarantined. Twelve cases of coronavirus have been identified and are being treated.
The PA is providing all medical supplies for the Gaza Strip, including testing equipment and medications. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is also playing a role through its clinics, centers and schools, some of the latter being transformed into examination facilities and places of quarantine.
There is real concern due to severe overcrowding, insufficient services and a lack of hospitals, beds and medical equipment, including intensive care rooms, respirators and even scanning tools. In general, the medical situation in the Gaza Strip was bad before the discovery of coronavirus, taking into consideration that it has always relied on hospitals in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Egypt for serious cases.
Despite the fact that the PA has controlled the spread of the disease so far, it is obvious that there will be difficulty in the next few days, when those working in Israel return for the Easter holiday. It is estimated that at least some of the more than 40,000 workers will be carriers, as has been the case regarding others who have already returned and transmitted the infection to their families, villages and cities.
The PA has asked Israel to examine workers before they return, or at least to arrange for their return in small groups, which will enable their testing and, if need be, quarantine. If there is to be control over the disease, it will depend on the extent of Israeli cooperation.
Another major concern is the condition of detainees in Israeli prisons. There are about 5,000 Palestinian detainees, and their conditions are very poor compared to those in any civilized country. They live in severe overcrowding, and apparently there are some cases of coronavirus. A prisoner released several days ago from the Ofer Prison, near Ramallah, was infected.
Every day, prisoners come in contact with guards, security personnel, doctors and members of the prison staff. All are part of Israeli society and are present everywhere; thus, it is very likely that some of them are infected.
Detainees have complained about a lack of sufficient cleaning and sterilization supplies after the Israel Prison Service (IPS) removed them from commissaries. Prisoners are demanding that adequate supplies be provided for the sterilization of prison wings, and also for general hygiene. They also request that the IPS provide regular testing.
The PA is calling for the release of the sick prisoners, the elderly, minors and women. It is also calling on the IPS to monitor prisoners’ health and respond to their needs, considering that the occupation authorities are responsible for these detainees. It is also appealing to international human rights organizations, including the Red Cross and the World Health Organization, to follow up on prisoners’ conditions and ensure Israel’s interest in their safety and health.
So far, there are at least 226 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Palestinian territories, and the disease is still spreading. If the number increases into the thousands, the Palestinian health system will not be able to handle the situation, requiring more cooperation between Israel and Palestine, and more assistance from the international community.