Gaza vaccinates healthcare workers as West Bank mulls another full shutdown

Gaza received its second batch of Russian vaccines on Monday, as local lockdowns come to a close. However, in the West Bank where vaccine roll out started earlier, a potential new coronavirus wave has health officials considering yet another broad scale closure. 

An initial shipment of 2,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V arrived in Gaza on February 17, after accusations from Palestinian leaders that Israel held up approving the transfer. The second installment landed this week: 20,000 doses of Sputnik V, as a humanitarian donation from the United Arab Emirates, according to the WHO’s latest situation report. While there are enough jabs to cover 10,000, Gaza has only been able to administer the first dose to a few hundred healthcare workers at this point. 

Examining the positivity rate: The vaccine rollout is taking place at three centers across the coastal enclave. The campaign comes as the spread slows in Gaza.

For over a month the positivity rate has precipitously dropped in Gaza. Once the second highest positivity rate in the world, this week the WHO reported it is down to 6%. As a result, health officials lifted the last of lockdown measures, including restrictions on large indoor weddings, which were thought to have caused spread in the region. There is no contact tracing in Gaza, so that level of research isn’t available outside of anecdotes. 

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Because testing is so limited in Gaza and has never exceeded more than 3,500 lab tests per day, we’ve consistently followed the positivity rate as a more reliable data point than the official percentage increase of new cases. Physicians who work in Gaza have told us that essentially only symptomatic patients, and often those who are most acutely ill, are able to get a test. As a result, the official number for increase in new cases is likely lacking all of the asymptomatic cases. 

UNRWA healthcare workers wear in Gaza City, on February 24, 2021. Palestinians in Gaza began a limited COVID-19 vaccination program on Monday after receiving doses donated by the UAE, but a wider campaign could be further off as health officials await larger shipments. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Jewish group urges Israel to act on vaccinating Gaza

This week Jewish Voice for Peace’s Health Advisory Council Steering Committee released a statement calling on Israel to “assume its legal and moral obligation to provide COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.”

The statement read:

“As health workers we understand that there must be equitable vaccine distribution to all nations and people of the world in order to stop this lethal pandemic, which recognizes no borders. However, as Israel has rolled out a robust vaccination campaign for citizens of Israel, so far they have only made about 5,000 doses of vaccine available in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. There is no justification for politics to create obstacles to vaccine availability.” 

Since the drafting of the statement, the West Bank and Gaza have received around 32,000 vaccine doses from all global sources.

We’ve tracked these kinds of calls in this newsletter, from human rights groups to UN officials. To date, Israel has given around 5,000 doses to Palestinians.

This week a related story broke where Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would give out excess vaccines unused in Israel’s robust national rollout to 19 allied countries– not amongst them, the Palestinians. 

Reuters reported the statement came under immediate scuritiny from Palestinian officials who called the overture “blackmail.” Ultimately, the plan was scrapped within a day after legal challenges were raised. We’ll keep you posted if this changes.

Palestinians throw snow balls in the West Bank city of Hebron, on February 18, 2021.The bad weather and snow hit last week and caused damage to homes, mainly in the Gaza Strip, and forced the government and banks to call off work. (Photo: Mosab Shawer/APA Images)

Will the West Bank have another full lockdown?

While the pandemic is lessening in Gaza, health officials are sounding alarms in the West Bank for a possible renewed broad scale lockdown after a 50% increase in new confirmed cases in just seven days. The new cases occurred with a 25% increase in lab tests, amounting to close to 350,000 tests, and a 15% increase in deaths, according to the WHO. 

The big picture: As of now there is a partial lockdown in the West Bank that will stay in effect until March 3. After that, officials are mulling a full scale closure. 

Most of the new cases are around Ramallah. The city accounts for nearly 20% of the total active cases in the occupied Palestinian territory. 

That’s it for this week. Stay safe!


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