The surging number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, 213 at press time, is deeply worrying Palestinian Authority health officials, who warned on Sunday of a “catastrophe” if a large number of Palestinians in the West Bank are diagnosed with the disease.
The number of coronavirus patients in the West Bank stood at 38 by mid-Sunday as no new cases were registered in the PA-controlled areas, the PA Health Ministry said. Thirty-seven cases have been reported in the Bethlehem area, while only one Palestinian from Tulkarm was diagnosed with the disease.
The ministry said tests conducted on 2,361 samples from the West Bank and Gaza Strip have produced negative results.
“So far the situation in the Palestinian territories seems to be under control,” said a senior official with the PA Health Ministry. “But we are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in Israel. Our major concern is that the disease could spread very quickly from Israel to the West Bank."
Asked if his ministry is prepared to deal with a mass outbreak of the coronavirus in the West Bank, the official said: “I don’t want to think of such a scenario, even though we can’t rule it out. We won’t be able to deal with the crisis alone. We will need assistance from Israel and other international parties. We are already coordinating on a daily basis with Israel to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Another health official said that not all the 16 Palestinian hospitals in the West Bank would be able to cope with a large number of infected cases. “Our hospitals don’t have enough professional teams and medical equipment to deal with a large number of infected patients,” the official said.
The Union of Palestinian Hospitals decided on Sunday to prevent hospital visits except for first-degree relatives and halt movement between the West Bank and Israel. The union also urged Palestinians to limit movement between Palestinian communities as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the virus.
PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, meanwhile, said that 15 out of the 38 patients have started to show signs of recovery. He added that the signs of recovery do not necessarily mean a full recovery, but rather mean that things are moving “in the right path.”
Shtayyeh told reporters in Ramallah that six of the cases re-tested positive for the disease, with two cases described as moderate and one, a German woman, in critical condition.
He said the 21 patients who first tested positive for the virus will undergo additional tests to make sure they have fully recovered.
“This is very reassuring, but nothing will change in the measures taken,” Shtayyeh said.
In the past few days, the PA security forces arrested a number of coffee shop owners who ignored orders to shut down their businesses due to the coronavirus. A Palestinian who posted a video of himself driving into Bethlehem – in defiance of the PA security forces’ instructions, was also arrested.