PA says Israel’s ‘symbolic’ donation of 5,000 vaccines ‘will not help us’

After weeks of mounting pressure from the international community, Israel announced that it will be giving 5,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine supplies to the Palestinian Authority (PA) — an amount so miniscule, that the PA said it “will not help us.”

Israel announced the move on Sunday, with a spokesperson for Defense Minister Benny Gantz telling AFP “I confirm we are going to send 5,000 vaccines to medical teams in the Palestinian Authority.”

The doses, according to AFP, are intended to inoculate Palestinian medical personnel and those on the front lines fighting the coronavirus. It remained unclear when the shipment would be made, and when the PA would start vaccinating healthcare workers.

But with two doses required per person, the shipment will only result in the vaccination of 2,500 medical personnel, leaving thousands more healthcare workers across the West Bank and Gaza at risk. 

An unnamed Palestinian official told AFP that the shipment was a “symbolic move” and that it “will not help us.”

Israel has come out as a world leader for its distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, so far inoculating 3.2 million people (34.3 percent of the country’s population). But Israel has, as right groups have pointed out, failed to uphold its responsibility under international law to vaccinate the Palestinian population it occupies in Gaza and the West Bank.

If the shipment of 5,000 vaccines does go through and the PA begins vaccinating healthcare workers, the lucky recipients of the vaccine will, according to public knowledge, be the first Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Last month the PA denied receiving a shipment of “dozens” of COVID-19 vaccines from Israel, following reports from Israel’s Kan news broadcaster that , the vaccines were delivered at the after the PA made a request for “special humanitarian cases.”

While the PA called the reports “groundless rumors,” it did lead to some speculation that the government had received some amount of vaccine doses and secretly distributed them to government officials. 

The PA has given few updates in recent weeks when it comes to their efforts at obtaining a vaccine — something they assured the Palestinian public they would have achieved back in December. 

Their radio silence has only confirmed fears that the PA is nowhere near where it needs to be in terms of securing vaccines for its citizens. On top of that, the government has still yet to make public any detailed plans for how it intends to distribute the vaccine to the population. 

In a vague and contradictory statement on Monday, official PA news agency Wafa quoted Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh as saying that his government “expects to get 50,000 vaccine vials from different sources, but mainly COVAX, and therefore vaccinating the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will start in the middle of this month, while the first batch of vaccines the government has ordered and paid for is supposed to arrive by the end of this month.”

In the meantime, COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), with dozens of cases of the new fast-spreading strain of COVID-19 being reported in several cities in the West Bank. 

In the past 24 hours the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 513 new cases of the virus in the oPt and nine COVID-19 related deaths. The ministry added that there are currently 54 coronavirus patients in intensive care, 16 of whom are on respirators.

On Monday the PA announced that it would be extending lockdown measures in the West Bank for another two weeks in order to curb the spread of the virus. In recent days police have started cracking down on a nation-wide mask mandate, and have been imposing a 7pm – 6am curfew from Sunday-Thursday, as well as full-scale closures on Fridays and Saturdays. 

But many Palestinians remain skeptical as whether the strict measures will last more than just a few days — after all, the latest efforts seem futile, as most restaurants, shops, businesses, and offices are to remain open as usual on weekdays, and family gatherings continue on uninterrupted. 

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