The Spread of COVID-19 in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Updated to August 10, 2020)

Palestinians leave the PA territories through a breach in the security fence near Far'un, south of Tulkarm, to look for places of entertainment in Israel (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

Palestinians leave the PA territories through a breach in the security fence near Far'un, south of Tulkarm, to look for places of entertainment in Israel (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

Palestinians leave the PA territories through a breach in the security fence near Far'un, south of Tulkarm, to look for places of entertainment in Israel (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

Palestinians leave the PA territories through a breach in the security fence near Far'un, south of Tulkarm, to look for places of entertainment in Israel (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

Disinfecting an office (PA police website, August 6, 2020).

Disinfecting an office (PA police website, August 6, 2020).

Opening an oxygen-tank filling station (Wafa, August 6, 2020).

Opening an oxygen-tank filling station (Wafa, August 6, 2020).

Palestinians enter Israeli territory through breaches in the security fence near the village of Far'un, south of Tulkarm (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 4, 2020).

Palestinians enter Israeli territory through breaches in the security fence near the village of Far'un, south of Tulkarm (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 4, 2020).

Palestinians enter Israeli territory through breaches in the security fence near the village of Far'un, south of Tulkarm (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 4, 2020).

Palestinians enter Israeli territory through breaches in the security fence near the village of Far'un, south of Tulkarm (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 4, 2020).

Traffic west of the village of Far'un as Palestinians go to Israel for entertainment and recreation (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

Traffic west of the village of Far'un as Palestinians go to Israel for entertainment and recreation (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

Traffic west of the village of Far'un as Palestinians go to Israel for entertainment and recreation (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

Traffic west of the village of Far'un as Palestinians go to Israel for entertainment and recreation (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

First day of school in a Tulkarm district high school Facebook page of Fajertv, August 8, 2020).

First day of school in a Tulkarm district high school Facebook page of Fajertv, August 8, 2020).

First day of school in a Tulkarm district high school Facebook page of Fajertv, August 8, 2020).

First day of school in a Tulkarm district high school Facebook page of Fajertv, August 8, 2020).

Students on their way to school (Facebook page of photojournalist Anas al-Sharif, August 8, 2020).

Students on their way to school (Facebook page of photojournalist Anas al-Sharif, August 8, 2020).

Overview

In the Palestinian Authority (PA) territories the trend towards flattening the COVID-19 curve continued. This past week 1,917 new cases were detected (similar to last week). According to the PA ministry of health, there are currently 6,153 active COVID-19 cases (as of August 9, 2020);[1] 4,095 in the Hebron district, about 66% of the total number. Of the active cases, 14 patients are in ICUs and three are on ventilators. As of August 10, 2020, there have been 99 deaths, up from 87 last week. The total number of Palestinians infected with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic is 14,127, up from 12,210 last week. In the Gaza Strip three new cases were detected among Palestinians who returned to Gaza through the Erez Crossing. There are now ten active COVID-19 cases hospitalized in the quarantine center at the Rafah Crossing (as of August 10, 2020).

  • According to PA reports, in east Jerusalem the number of active cases currently stands at 2,106 (2,212 last week and 160 at the beginning of July). The extensive rate of infection in east Jerusalem has the potential for the mutual infection of the western and eastern neighborhoods. Other groups for potential mutual infection are the tens of thousands of Palestinian workers in Israel and residents who visit Israel for other reasons (this past week many Palestinian families illegally entered Israeli territory through breaches in the security fence, mainly to get to the beaches).
Palestinians leave the PA territories through a breach in the security fence near Far'un, south of Tulkarm, to look for places of entertainment in Israel (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).
    Palestinians leave the PA territories through a breach in the security fence near Far'un, south of Tulkarm, to look for places of entertainment in Israel (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).
Palestinians leave the PA territories through a breach in the security fence near Far’un, south of Tulkarm, to look for places of entertainment in Israel (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

The spread of COVID-19 infection in Judea and Samaria
(since the beginning of July 2020)

The spread of COVID-19 infection in Judea and Samaria (since the beginning of July 2020)

The Spread of COVID-19 in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip
  • The following are the main developments in COVID-19 in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip this past week:
    • The Hebron district, the villages around east Jerusalem and east Jerusalem itself continue as the main epicenters. PA spokesmen say that during the Eid al-Adha holiday the population disobeyed public health guidelines and they therefore expect a rise in the number of active cases in the PA territories (Dunia al-Watan, August 6, 2020).
    • Mahmoud Abbas extended the state of emergency for 30 days. In addition, localized preventive measures continue in the various districts. In the meantime, there were complaints about economic damages in the various sectors, while the PA claims it is making an effort to find a balance between public health guidelines and economic considerations.
    • With the lack of organized cooperation between the PA and Israel, the risk of mutual Israel-PA territory infection increases, primarily from Palestinian workers in Israel, including from east Jerusalem neighborhoods. In addition, PA families come to Israel to go to the beach. Senior PA figures warn against the unmonitored entrance of Palestinians into Israel, but in practical terms the PA does very little to prevent it.
    • The Hamas administration in Gaza still has control over COVID-19 infection. There are currently ten active COVID-19 cases in Gaza, all of them having entered the Gaza Strip through either the Rafah or Erez Crossing. They are hospitalized in quarantine centers. The Gaza Strip is now preparing (with concern) to receive about 2,000 Palestinians through the Rafah Crossing.
Geographic Distribution of COVID-19 Epicenters
Overview

The distribution of active cases in the PA (6,153), by district, is as follows: Hebron, 4,095; Bethlehem, 321; Nablus, 205; Ramallah-al-Bireh, 516; the villages around Jerusalem, 703; Tulkarm, 67; Jericho, 218; Qalqilya, 94; Jenin, 97, Salfit, 8; and Tubas, 19.

Distribution of active COVID-19 cases by district

Distribution of active COVID-19 cases by district

Hebron district

The number of active cases in the Hebron district currently stands at 4,095, down from 4,221 a week ago (as of August 9, 2020). The graph below shows the beginning of a possible flattening of the curve, but it is still too early to determine if trend towards rising numbers has been halted. The Hebron district now accounts for 66% of the active COVID-19 cases in the PA territories, up from 62% a week ago. The local authorities continue issuing public health guidelines but the population does not always follow them.

Extent of the spread of COVID-19 in the Hebron district

Distribution of active COVID-19 cases by district

  • In light of the ongoing increase in the number of active cases, especially in the southern part of the Hebron district, the department of Muslim endowments recommended the temporary cessation of Friday prayers in mosques in several towns and villages (Facebook page of the department of Muslim endowments in the southern part of the Hebron district, August 6, 2020). On the local municipality’s initiative, clan elders in Bayt Awa signed a so-called “honorable social agreement” promising that members of their clans would take preventive measures to keep the virus from spreading: they would hold weddings with only a small number of guests and erect only small mourning tents (Facebook page of the Bayt Awa municipality, August 8, 2020).

Bethlehem district

The number of active cases in the Bethlehem district currently stands at 321, up from 295 a week ago. Kamal Hamid, Bethlehem district governor, presided over the opening of a station for refilling oxygen tanks at the Palestinian national rehabilitation center for treating COVID-19 patients. He said the station could supply 120 oxygen tanks, and in the future would supply them to other centers (Wafa, August 6, 2020). In the meantime, teams continue disinfection operations throughout the city and district of Bethlehem (PA police website, August 6, 2020).

Nablus district

There was a decline in the number of active COVID-19 cases in the Nablus district this past week, with 205 cases, down from 278 a week ago. Nevertheless, the deputy district governor warned of a rise in the number of infections following the recent entrance of thousands of Palestinians into Israeli territory through breaches in the security fence. She said the virus had begun spreading in the district and that the number of cases in a specific clan was on the rise. She expressed concern over the public health system’s inability to cope with a serious rise in COVID-19 infection (Dunia al-Watan, August 8, 2020).

Ramallah district

The number of active COVID-19 cases in the Ramallah district currently stands at 516, down from 548 a week ago. New cases included two female employees of the PLO headquarters’ staff (al-Quds, August 6, 2020). Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee, announced that the PLO’s headquarters would be closed for 14 days (Saeb Erekat’s Twitter account, August 8, 2020).

Jenin district

The number of active COVID-19 cases in the Jenin district currently stands at 97, down from 118 a week ago. After seven new COVID-19 cases were detected, Akram al-Rajoub, Jenin district governor, closed all the mosques in Silat al-Zaher for three days. He also imposed a lockdown on the village of Tura and closed the mosques after ten new cases were detected (Akram al-Rajoub’s Facebook page, August 3, 2020).

Tulkarm district

The number of active COVID-19 cases in the Tulkarm district stands at 67, up from 62 a week ago. The police detained a singer and his band who came from Ramallah to appear in a local village. Also detained was a singer from Tulkarm who was en route to appear at the Dheisheh refugee camp. The police closed a video arcade in Tulkarm that had disobeyed government guidelines (PA police website, August 3, 2020).

East Jerusalem

According to reports from the PA, the number of active cases in east Jerusalem stands at 2,106, down from 2,212 a week ago, and up from 160 at the beginning of July 2020. Note: The figure issued by the Jerusalem municipality was 1,430 as of August 10, 2020.

Active COVID-19 cases in the east Jerusalem neighborhoods
(since the beginning of July 2020)

Active COVID-19 cases in the east Jerusalem neighborhoods (since the beginning of July 2020)

Total number of COVID-19 cases (since the beginning of July 2020)
Total number of COVID-19 cases (since the beginning of July 2020)

  • Dr. Mai al-Kayla, PA minister of health, accused Israel of preventing Palestinian medical teams from operating in east Jerusalem, while herself refused to provide east Jerusalem inhabitants with the medical services necessary to protect them from the spread of the virus (ministry of health in Ramallah Facebook page, August 8, 2020). She claimed the only thing Israel agreed to was administering COVID-19 tests at east Jerusalem medical centers. She said [east] Jerusalem hospitals were prepared to accept patients and she had paid them an unofficial visit to see what their needs were (Dunia al-Watan, August 8, 2020).[2]
The minister of health visits hospitals in [east] Jerusalem 
(Facebook page of the PA ministry of health, August 6, 2020).
    The minister of health visits hospitals in [east] Jerusalem 
(Facebook page of the PA ministry of health, August 6, 2020).
The minister of health visits hospitals in [east] Jerusalem
(Facebook page of the PA ministry of health, August 6, 2020).
COVID-19 infection in the east Jerusalem neighborhoods

According to data from the Jerusalem municipality, the number of active COVID-19 cases currently (updated to August 10, 2020) stands at 1,430, down from 1,568 a week ago. Most of them (1,324) are home-isolated, 115 are hospitalized and 28 are in nursing homes. Since the COVID-19 outbreak 14 patients in east Jerusalem have died.

Infection in east Jerusalem (according to data from the Jerusalem municipality)
Infection in east Jerusalem (according to data from the Jerusalem municipality)

Cases per 100,000 inhabitants (according to the Jerusalem municipality)
Cases per 100,000 inhabitants (according to the Jerusalem municipality)

Kafr ‘Aqab’s potential for mutual reinfection[3]
  • Kafr ‘Aqab is a large neighborhood north of Jerusalem on the eastern side of the security fence, most of whose inhabitants have the status of permanent residents in Israel. They live in crowded conditions, there is no law enforcement and no functioning administrative system. Therefore Kafr ‘Aqab has the potential for the spread of COVID-19 within the neighborhood itself, and for spreading the disease to and from Israel and the PA as well. Pictures taken last week illustrate the fact.
Residents of Kafr 'Aqab wait for social security payments at the Qalandia Crossing. In both pictures the local inhabitants can be seen not wearing masks or practicing social distancing (pictures courtesy of the Jerusalem municipality).    Residents of Kafr 'Aqab enter Israel through the Qalandia Crossing.
Right: Residents of Kafr ‘Aqab enter Israel through the Qalandia Crossing. Left: Residents of Kafr ‘Aqab wait for social security payments at the Qalandia Crossing. In both pictures the local inhabitants can be seen not wearing masks or practicing social distancing (pictures courtesy of the Jerusalem municipality).
PA Preventive Measures

Mahmoud Abbas issued a 30-day extension of the state of emergency in the PA territories (Sawa, August 4, 2020). The PLO’s Executive Committee backed the decision and his support for the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus (Wafa, August 6, 2020).

  • At the weekly PA government meeting Ibrahim Melhem, PA government spokesman, confirmed the following measures (Palestinian TV, August 4, 2020):
    • Continuation of the weekend lockdowns.
    • Increased supervision: The appointment of a committee for daily monitoring composed of several government ministries and security services to inspect efforts to fight the virus. A committee was also appointed to carry out inspections on the ground.
    • Renewed inspection of public areas to ensure that public health guidelines are being obeyed by business owners, workshops, public transportation, restaurants and gyms. The ban on weddings, mourning tents and other gatherings will continue.
    • A call to workers [i.e., Palestinians who work in Israel] not to go home from work every day.
    • Increased information in the media.
    • Dr. Kamal al-Shakhra, spokesman for the ministry of health in Ramallah, said that according to W.H.O. guidelines, quarantine length will be reduced to ten days. He said the ministry of health in Ramallah had adopted the protocol for both active cases and people who had come in contact with verified cases (sanad news, August 6, 2020). The ministry of transportation issued new guidelines stating that the number of passengers on public transportation will be reduced. For example, a bus with a capacity of 50 passengers can now carry only 30, all of them with face masks, and taxis with a capacity of seven passengers can now take only five (ministry of transportation in Ramallah, August 5, 2020).
Supply of Medical Equipment and Vaccines
  • The foreign ministry announced the receipt of 10,000 swabs, donated by the Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC). According to the ministry, because of the termination of coordination with Israel, UNRWA took it upon itself to coordinate the delivery of the swabs for the PA territories (Wafa, August 6, 2020). In addition, the ministry of health received 22 ventilators from the Palestinian Collaboration Organization, a donation from Palestinians living in Chile (Shehab Twitter account, August 5, 2020).
  • The PA minister of health said they were preparing for the next wave of COVID-19. She said ministry of health in Ramallah had reserves of swabs for two or three months, and were currently issuing tenders to buy more. Regarding a vaccine, she said the PA representative in Russia would appeal to the Russian minister of health to receive the vaccine Russia was currently developing, if it became authorized for use (Facebook page of the ministry of health in Ramallah, August 8, 2020; Dunia al-Watan, August 8, 2020).
  • Ibrahim Melhem, PA government spokesman, said the ministry of health had received authorization to order two million doses of a vaccine from the W.H.O. when one became available. The government had also authorized the purchase of 100,000 doses of anti-flu vaccine for the chronically ill and aged for this coming winter (Palestinian TV, August 4, 2020).
Visits of Palestinians to Israel as a Source of Mutual Infection
  • Dr. Mai al-Kayla, PA minister of health, again warned Palestinians against trips and visits to Israel, saying they were dangerous and the main cause of the spread of the virus. She said the curve of the virus had flattened before the Eid al-Adha holiday, but because of recent visits to Israeli territory the number could rise (Facebook page of ministry of health in Ramallah, August 8, 2020).
  •  Dr. Kamal al-Shakhra, spokesman for the ministry of health in Ramallah, said they were expecting a serious rise in the number of active cases after the Eid al-Adha holiday. He called events during the holiday a “disaster,” because, he said, ministry of health guidelines had not been obeyed (sanad news, August 6, 2020; Dunia al-Watan, August 6, 2020). He blamed Israel for [allegedly] deliberately opening places of entertainment and beaches to Palestinians during the holiday to spread the virus among them.

Palestinians enter Israel through a breach in the security fence in the Far'un region
 (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).
Palestinians enter Israel through a breach in the security fence in the Far’un region
(Facebook page of Fajertv, August 7, 2020).

Support for Sectors Harmed by the COVID-19 Crisis
  • PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh met with representatives of the association of the offices of commerce, industry and agriculture to discuss ways to restart the economy in the shadow of the coronavirus. He said that they were doing the best they could to find a balance between health and the economy. He added that many sectors had been hit hard, especially tourism. Therefore, he said, he had decided to give $300 million in loans to support small and medium-size businesses.
  • The representatives presented the following demands: to find ways to compensate the tourism industry; to reopen various sectors, among them hotels, restaurants and reception venues; to rethink the issue of closing businesses on weekends; to allow residents of Israel [i.e., Israeli Arabs] to enter the PA territories to help generate commerce (Dunia al-Watan, Ma’an, August 5, 2020).
  • Approximately 200 owners of wedding venues and workers in allied sectors demonstrated in front of the government building in Ramallah for reopening the venues in accordance with medical guidelines. According to Taleb al-Tamimi, chairman of the association of wedding venue owners, they had been promised that their demands would be considered and they would receive an answer within 24 hours. He warned that if their demands were not met they would close their doors, bring the keys to the government and invest their money abroad. He said that since the beginning of the COVID-19 infections, weddings were being held without preventive measures outside the areas of PA control, such as private homes or “Israeli vacation sites on the Dead Sea” (al-Quds, August 9, 2020).
Owners of reception venues demonstrate (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 9, 2020).    Owners of reception venues demonstrate (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 9, 2020).
Owners of reception venues demonstrate (Facebook page of Fajertv, August 9, 2020).
Back to School
  • On August 9, 2020, about 70,000 Palestinian high school students went back to school, in accordance with public health guidelines. The ministry of education estimates that by August 10, 2020, all high school students will return to school and that by September 6, 2020, all other students will be in school if medical conditions permit. According to Basri Saleh, deputy minister of education, the high school students returned to school obeying joint ministry of health and education public health guidelines (Wafa, August 4, 2020).
  • Sadiq al-Khudour, spokesman for the ministry of education in Ramallah, said the ministry had authorized frontal teaching for high school students in school and first through fourth grades. The other grades will alternate study days on the condition that students go to school at least five days every two weeks. He added that the ministry of education had given the school principals the freedom to decide the syllabus and the number of lessons to be held every day. He said the schools would be disinfected in preparation for the students’ return (Watan TV, August 5, 2020).
The Gaza Strip
The extent of infection

On August 9, 2020, the ministry of health in Gaza announced three new COVID-19 cases, Palestinians who had entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez Crossing and were currently in a quarantine center (Twitter account of the ministry of health in Gaza, August 9, 2020). So far 81 COVID-19 cases have been detected in Gaza, 71 of whom have recovered. Five patients who recovered were transferred to quarantine centers to complete their isolation period and 66 were discharged to their homes (Dunia al-Watan, August 9, 2020). There has been one death (Dunia al-Watan, August 1, 2020).

  • So far (August 9, 2020) 14,192 tests have been administered in the Gaza Strip to detect COVID-19. There are currently 256 Palestinians in three quarantine centers (Dunia al-Watan TV, August 9, 2020).
Back to school
  • On August 8, 2020, the new school year began in Gaza, about five months after schools were closed because of the coronavirus. On the eve of the first day of school the ministry of education announced it had completed disinfecting all the schools (Facebook page of the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip, August 7, 2020). Matthias Schmale, director of UN operations in the Gaza Strip, said UNRWA was taking precautions in its 277 schools, which serve 286,000 students (Dunia al-Watan, August 8, 2020).
 Students on their way to school (Facebook page of photojournalist Anas al-Sharif, August 8, 2020).  Disinfecting government schools in the Gaza Strip (Facebook page of the ministry of education in the Gaza Strip, August 7, 2020).
Right: Disinfecting government schools in the Gaza Strip (Facebook page of the ministry of education in the Gaza Strip, August 7, 2020). Left: Students on their way to school (Facebook page of photojournalist Anas al-Sharif, August 8, 2020).
Opening the Rafah Crossing
  • In the Gaza Strip preparations are being made to receive more returning residents, despite concerns over the transmission of COVID-19. Salama Maarouf, head of Hamas’ media bureau, said that in the near future the Rafah Crossing would open, as soon as preparations for receiving returning residents had been made. He said they were expecting 2,000 Palestinians, who would immediately be transferred to quarantine centers (Sawa, al-Ra’i, August 6, 2020). Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for Hamas’ ministry of the interior, issued a statement denying reports about opening the Rafah Crossing, stressing that no date had yet been set. He said they were discussing arrangements with the Egyptians and that once a decision had been made there would be an announcement (website of the ministry of the interior in Gaza, August 7, 2020).
  • In the meantime, preparations are being made on the Gazan side to open the Rafah Crossing to receive the returning Palestinians. The ministry of health’s emergency committee discussed the precautionary measures to be taken as the Palestinians passed through the crossing. Reportedly, they will all have to be quarantined for 21 days. In addition, the passage of those returning will be separate from those leaving (website of the ministry of health in Gaza, August 6, 2020).
  • Senior figures in the ministries of health and the interior met to discuss their concerns about possible active COVID-19 cases among the returning Palestinians. According to reports, two new quarantine centers have been constructed, one in the central Gaza Strip and the other in the central jail in Khan Yunis, which was renovated and turned into a quarantine center. New quarantine centers had to be constructed because schools used as centers were turned over to the relevant authorities and hotels were returned to their owners (website of the ministry of the interior in Gaza, August 9, 2020).
Construction of the quarantine center in Deir al-Balah (Twitter account of journalist Hasan Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, August 9, 2020).    Construction of the quarantine center in Deir al-Balah (Twitter account of journalist Hasan Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, August 9, 2020).
Construction of the quarantine center in Deir al-Balah (Twitter account of journalist Hasan Twitter account of journalist Hassan Aslih, August 9, 2020).

[1] Note: It should be taken into account that statistics from the PA ministry of health include recoveries but systematic information about their numbers is not provided.
[2] On August 6, 2020, the Facebook page of the ministry of health in Ramallah posted a report on the Mai al-Kayla's visit to [east] Jerusalem. It stated that she signed an agreement for cooperation with the St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital and visited the St. Joseph Hospital. She stressed the support of her ministry for the [east] Jerusalem hospitals (Facebook page of the ministry of health in Ramallah, August 6, 2020).

[3] For further information, see the August 3, 2020 bulletin, "COVID-19 Infection in the East Jerusalem Neighborhoods: The exceptional case of Kafr 'Aqab."