- In February, active cases more than double in the West Bank, decline significantly in Gaza.
- Public health restrictions ended in Gaza but extended in the West Bank.
- The Palestinian Ministry of Health launches its vaccination campaign.
February witnessed an 88.5 per cent increase in active COVID-19 cases in the oPt, with 29,430 additional Palestinians testing positive, and 21,233 people recovering, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH). The cumulative number of cases is 208,349, with 189,154 people recovered from the virus. The number of patients in intensive care units (ICU) increased from 57 at the end of January to 117, with those requiring mechanical ventilation rising from 19 to 26.
A total of 274 people died, bringing to 2,259 the cumulative number of fatalities due to the virus: 1,709 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and 550 in the Gaza Strip. The Case Fatality Rate (CFR), the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases, remains at 1.1 per cent in the oPt, above Israel (0.7), but lower than Jordan (1.2 per cent), and Egypt (5.9 per cent).
However, while the number of active cases declined by 61 per cent in Gaza (from 4,485 to 1,737), they rose by 236 per cent in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, (from 4,501 to 15,119). By the end of the month, the Gaza Strip accounted for only 10 per cent of all active cases in the oPt, compared with 50 per cent at the end of January, with the Ramallah governorate registering 17 per cent of all active cases in the oPt, followed by the Hebron governorate (14 per cent), the East Jerusalem area (13.6 per cent), and the Nablus governorate (10.8 per cent). According to WHO, the surge in the West Bank is most likely due to the prevalence there of new, more contagious variants of COVID-19.
In early February, the Palestine MoH, in collaboration with partners, and with support from WHO, conducted a survey to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza. The preliminary findings suggest that an estimated 40 per cent of the population tested positive for immunoglobulin markers related to COVID-19, with up to ten per cent more women testing positive than men. The final report, including recommendations, is expected to be released by the end of March.
In response to the decrease in infections in Gaza, the local authorities have largely eased most of the public health restrictions. In a significant development, on 9 February, the Egyptian authorities re-opened the Rafah Crossing for travel in both directions.
In the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), new restrictions were imposed on 28 February, which includes a night and weekend lockdown and a return to distance learning for most pupils. By contrast, the Israeli authorities are planning the imminent reopening of restaurants, cafes, hotels and event venues, in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines, with these measures also applying to occupied East Jerusalem.
A UN report(link is external) prepared for the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), which met on 23 February, characterizes 2020 “as a year of setbacks for the Palestinians, their institutions, and their economy owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and an unprecedented fiscal crisis.” The Palestinian economy contracted between 10 and 12 per cent in 2020, with indicators suggesting that poverty and food insecurity rates rose sharply, gender-based violence increased, and educational attainment declined. The report’s authors suggested “the unfortunate events of 2020 will negatively shape Palestinian development trajectories for many years to come.”
On 2 February, the Palestinian MoH launched its vaccination campaign in the West Bank, following the donation of 12,000 doses of the Modena and Sputnik V vaccines, giving priority to frontline health workers in ICUs. On 15 February, the MoH announced that it had to delay a broader rollout of the vaccination campaign, due to delays in anticipated deliveries.
In Gaza, the first batch of vaccines, 2,000 doses of Sputnik V, arrived on 17 February; an additional 20,000 does of Sputnik V were delivered on 21 February, as a donation from the United Arab Emirates. The vaccination campaign in Gaza began on 22 February, targeting frontline health workers.
The first vaccines delivered through the Gavi COVAX AMC Facility, in partnership with WHO and UNICEF, are now expected to arrive in March, including 37,400 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech, subject to agreement with the manufacturers. A further allocation of 240,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZenica vaccine are also expected, probably in June.
Through COVAX, the Palestinian Authority PA is eligible to receive donor funded COVID-19 vaccines for up to 20 percent of its population and has applied for additional doses to cover an additional 40 per cent of the population on a self-financing basis. According to the World Bank(link is external), about US$55 million will be needed to vaccinate 60 per cent of Palestinians, of which there is an existing gap of $30 million.
Israel is continuing its vaccination programme, which is also available to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and currently ranks first globally for per capita vaccinations(link is external), with over three and a half million people already vaccinated with the first dose. On 23 February, Israel opened a vaccination centre at Qalandiya checkpoint for Palestinians with Israeli residency (from East Jerusalem) who live beyond the Barrier, and who face problems in accessing the remainder of Jerusalem city.
On 28 February, the Israeli government approved a plan to vaccinate over 120,000 Palestinians without Israeli residency, who are employed in Israel or in Israeli settlements, to be implemented at border crossings and in industrial zones across the West Bank. A number of Israeli, Palestinian and international health and human rights organizations, as well as Israeli health officials, have called on(link is external) the Israeli authorities to ensure that vaccines are equally and fairly provided to Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.