Palestinian territories

Cluster reported in West Bank after first Palestinian death

Tom Bateman

BBC Middle East correspondent

A Palestinian child cycles on the roof of a building in the city of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank (26 March 2020)
The Palestinian Authority has ordered a lockdown in the West Bank

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has reported a new cluster of coronavirus cases in a village in the occupied West Bank, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Palestinian territories to 84.

On Wednesday night, officials announced the first Palestinian death linked to Covid-19 - a woman in her 60s. She lived in the West Bank village of Biddu, where a further 15 coronavirus cases have now been revealed.

Officials said her son had recently tested positive for the virus, linking it to his recent return from working in Israel, where there have been more than 2,600 confirmed cases and eight deaths.

The PA has called for Palestinian workers in Israel to come back to the West Bank - but it’s creating unease.

After another man returned showing symptoms, the Palestinian governor of the area said any worker who came back without self-isolating would be "arrested and dealt with as if he was a criminal charged with premeditated murder".

Before the outbreak, about 150,000 Palestinians crossed checkpoints every day from the West Bank to work in Israel - many as labourers or cleaners. As part of measures to prevent further spread of the virus, 30,000 workers have been permitted to remain in Israel only if they stay for at least two months, usually in accommodation meant to be provided by an employer.

Gaza: Virus fears in crowded strip

Yolande Knell

BBC Middle East correspondent, Jerusalem

In Gaza, police patrol the beachfront to check coffee shops are closed and drive around with loudspeakers ordering people to stay home after the first two coronavirus cases were announced on Sunday.

Since the start of the pandemic, health officials have worried about it reaching this impoverished coastal enclave - one of the world’s most densely populated places.

Social distancing is almost impossible among large families living in Gaza's crowded refugee camps and built-up neighbourhoods, raising fears that infection could spread fast and that overstretched hospitals could be overwhelmed.

"It’s a very difficult and challenging environment," says Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of the World Health Organization in the Palestinian Territories. He rushed to Gaza after two men returning from Pakistan tested positive for coronavirus.

"The good thing is that they were in quarantine all the time. They are isolated now so that the risk that this spreads further is minimised," Dr Rockenschaub says.

Boys wearing masks play football in Gaza (22/03/20)
Getty Images

More medical supplies are being sent to Gaza, and Qatar has pledged $150m (£130m) over the coming six months to help combat the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Schools, public markets and wedding halls have already been shut for two weeks. Now restrictions have been tightened.

"The number of people on the streets has dramatically decreased and so has my work," says taxi driver Alaa Saleh.

"I’m worried about having no income but I’m also worried because my job brings me into close contact with people, so maybe I could catch the virus."

Gaza has been kept under blockade by Israel and Egypt since the militant group, Hamas, took full control of the territory in 2007. Up to now, some Gazans had been commenting on the irony of how their enforced isolation appeared to be protecting them during this health crisis.

MMA fighter: 'I'm the pride of Palestine'
Abdul Kareem al-Selwady became a Mixed Martial Arts World Lightweight Champion in 2018, the first Palestinian to do so.