• The first fatality from COVID-19 in the oPt recorded in the West Bank on 25 March.
• Further social and movement restrictions introduced in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
• The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) Response Plan for COVID-19 seeks US$34m to prevent further transmission of the virus in the oPt.
As of 30 March, a total of 117 Palestinians have been confirmed to have COVID-19, 107 in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem Palestinians), and ten in the Gaza Strip. The first person died from COVID-19 on 25 March in the West Bank. The majority of people do not present critical symptoms and 18 people have recovered. While the current number of people detected in the oPt remains low, this may reflect the limited testing capacity. Contact tracing has been initiated for all confirmed cases.
The capacity of the Palestinian health system to cope with an expected increase in patients remains severely impaired by longstanding challenges and critical shortages, particularly in the Gaza Strip. As elsewhere, the most vulnerable groups, who may require intensive medical care, are the elderly and those suffering from noncommunicable diseases, such as hypertension, lung conditions, kidney failure, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
People in refugee camps and other poor, densely-populated areas across the oPt face a higher risk of contagion due to overcrowding and inadequate sanitation.
The most urgent items currently needed to contain the spread of COVID-19, which are in short supply, include: personal protective equipment (PPE) kits and other essential supplies for infection prevention and control; equipment, disposables and drugs for the treatment of respiratory distress; ventilators, cardio-monitors, emergency carts and portable X-Ray machines; and equipment to conduct COVID-19 tests. Hospitals across the oPt also face shortages of specialized staff in intensive care units.
The closure of schools, limitations on access to work places, and the imposition of quarantine and curfew which have been put in place, are expected to increase mental and psychosocial distress, particularly among children, as well as gender-based violence, while social services addressing these issues have been severely curtailed. As severe restrictions on social and economic activity continue, the impact of long-term disruptions raises serious concern, particularly given the already-dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.
On 22 March, the Palestinian Authority (PA) imposed a curfew in the West Bank for 14 days, obliging people to stay at home, other than to purchase of food and medicine, or in case of emergency. Further to the death of a 66-yearold woman in Biddu on 25 March, the Jerusalem Governor announced a full closure of that community, and, subsequently, a complete lockdown movement of all the villages in the north-western Jerusalem governorate.
Following the detection of three cases in Hebron on 29 March, the PA blocked all access routes to and from the city, except for one to bring in food and commodities. The city has been divided geographically with road blocks to prevent movement between neighbourhoods, and food shops open for designated hours only.
Throughout the West Bank, there is increasing restriction of movement by the PA, including physical obstacles on some main roads and village entrances. Access by Palestinian farmers to their land in the “Seam Zone”, the area between the Barrier and the Green line, particularly in the northern West Bank, is also highly restricted following Israel’s suspension of most existing permits.
On 24 March, the Palestinian authorities recalled all Palestinian workers employed in Israel to the West Bank; the scope of implementation remains unclear, as the construction sector in Israel, where most workers are employed, has remained active. Those returning have been ordered to go into home quarantine for two weeks, however, despite some monitoring by the PA, not all returned through official crossings, with no means of ensuring that they follow the home quarantine regulations.
The access of patients referred to hospitals in East Jerusalem and Israel has been limited to emergency cases and cancer patients. The East Jerusalem Hospital Network has announced that all of their six facilities are preparing to deal with cases of COVID-19 that require clinical care, whilst continuing to suffer from chronic underfunding, which hinders the provision of medical drugs and treatment. There is an unconfirmed number of Palestinian patients with COVID-19 in East Jerusalem, in addition to the total number in the remainder of the West Bank.
Since 15 March, all incoming travellers from Egypt and Israel have been sent to isolation for 14 days. Over 1,760 people are quarantined in 25 designated sites, including the Rafah Crossing quarantine centre, health facilities, schools and hotels. All home quarantine (applied before the 15 March measure) has now ended, following completion of the mandatory 14 days. On 30 March, driven by the lack of testing resources, the authorities extended the mandatory period for people in quarantine sites from 14 to 21 days. To cope with the crisis, all nonemergency surgeries have been suspended and primary healthcare is restricted to 14 centres, which provide essential services only. Restrictions have been gradually tightening, to include closing weekly markets and public gatherings, including weddings, funerals and all prayers at mosques and churches.
Access for Palestinians from Gaza to the outside world through the two passenger crossings with Israel and Egypt is severely constrained. The Israeli-controlled Erez crossing has been largely shut down since 12 March for most permit holders, including over 5,000 labourers and traders with permits. As in the West Bank, the exit of patients has been limited to emergency cases and cancer patients. Exit to Egypt via the Rafah crossing has been halted by the Egyptian authorities as of 15 March; and opening times for entry into Gaza remain irregular and unpredictable. An estimated 400 Palestinians from Gaza are currently waiting in Egypt to return.
Movement of goods from Israel and Egypt has continued as previously, including the entry of restricted (“dual use”) items via the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom Crossing. The Government of Israel has offered to expedite approvals for items needed in relation to the COVID response. In a bid to minimize public gatherings and prevent transmission of COVID-19, demonstrations planned for 30 March to commemorate the “Land Day” and the second anniversary of the Great March of Return were cancelled.
Inter-Agency Response Plan – Funding Status
On 27 March, the oPt Humanitarian Country Team released a revised Inter-Agency Response Plan for COVID-19 ove for the next three months, appealing for US$34m to prevent further transmission of the virus in the oPt; provide adequate care for patients and their families; and mitigate the worst effects of the pandemic. It expands the initial plan launched on 14 March by the Health Cluster and is fully aligned with the PA National COVID-19 Response Plan, which was released by the Office of the Prime Minister on 26 March.
So far, the HCT Response Plan is 24 per cent funded, including an upcoming allocation of $4.8m from the oPt Humanitarian Fund (HF), following a reorientation of the first HF Standard Allocation.
Additionally, UNRWA has launched a separate Flash Appeal, which seeks $14 million to cover COVID-19 related interventions across its five areas of operation, also for the coming 90 days.
The close cooperation between the Palestinian and Israel authorities observed since the start of the crisis, continues. The Israeli authorities have facilitated the import 10,000 testing kits by the PA. On 25 March, the Israeli Ministry of Health also held training for emergency workers in Al Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem for the conversion and preparation of the hospital to receive COVID-19 patients.
The Inter-agency Covid-19 Task Force led by the Humanitarian/Resident Coordinator (HC/RC), as well as InterCluster Coordination Group (ICCG), continue regularly meetings to follow up on the implementation of the InterAgency Response Plan.
• As part of the Inter-Agency Response Plan, UNICEF and WHO, with the support of the HCT’s Advocacy Working Group and UN Communications Group, launched a Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) plan. The Plan aims to support the government in amplifying health messages and tackle misinformation across various social media and established a dedicated website.
• UNICEF are also taking the lead in coordinating and centralizing the procurement of medical supplies and equipment. In addition, WFP is coordinating logistical support for the response.
The HC/RC also informs the Palestinian authorities about essential movements required by humanitarian and development staff during this period of enhanced movement restrictions, while following the previously adopted Standard Operation Procedures. Where necessary, coordination with the Israeli authorities is also conducted to ensure the safe movement of staff.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.