West Bank hospitals reach full capacity as COVID-19 crisis worsens

Hospitals in Palestine are filled to the brim, as health officials and medical workers struggle to keep up with the rapidly rising rates of COVID-19 in the occupied West Bank.  

Palestinian Minister of Health Mai al-Kaila said on Monday that hospitals in the West Bank had exceeded 100% capacity, describing the situation as “very dangerous,” and that the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients and those in need of ventilators were steadily increasing. 

According to al-Kaila, a significant portion of the new cases of COVID-19 that are being detected in the West Bank are being traced to the newer, more viral and more deadly variants of the coronavirus, including the British variant. 

Every day more Palestinians in the West Bank are getting infected with the coronavirus, with daily infection rates surpassing 2,000 new cases every 24 hours, for weeks now. 

Health officials have stressed that the number of actual cases could be much higher than that of the number being reported, as many people infected with the virus are often asymptomatic or display symptoms similar to that of the normal flu, and therefore do not get tested for COVID-19. 

So far, the total number of confirmed cases in Palestine since March 2020 stands at over 240,000, and more than 2,500 deaths. With a population of only around 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, those numbers are extremely significant when considering how much of the population has been affected by the virus. 

A World Health Organization (WHO) report on the pandemic released in early March noted a rise of 38 percent in infections and 61 percent in deaths in the West Bank, compared to the week before the report was published. 

While the Palestinian officials say they’re doing everything they can to alleviate the situation, including implementing the strictest lockdowns the West Bank has seen since last year, Palestinians say that the current crisis is like something out of a nightmare.

Stories of people being turned away from hospitals or being put on mattresses on the floor of hospital hallways have been flooding local media. 

One Palestinian nurse from Bethlehem, who asked to remain anonymous, described the situation in hospitals right now as “hellish,” saying the situation is “so much worse than anyone can imagine.”

“We are turning people away, very sick people, because we have nowhere to put them,” the nurse told Mondoweiss. “At this point it’s like we were waiting for people to die just so that someone else can take their bed or their ventilator.”

The nurse likened the current situation in Palestine to that of places like Italy and New York earlier in the pandemic, when people were dying at alarming rates, and hospitals were unable to keep up. 

And while Palestinians continue to die from COVID-19 at alarming rates, the chance for ordinary citizens to be vaccinated against the virus is still a far away prospect. 

Palestinian officials have continued to delay its vaccination roll out — something that has been happening for months now — due to the delayed arrival in hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses from the WHO COVAX program and other private manufacturers. 

While some 40,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine were sent to Gaza from the UAE last week, PA officials in the West Bank have said they have only received 12,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine to date, along with a few thousand Moderna doses sent by Israeli for Palestinian medical workers. 

The vaccines that did arrive in the hands of the PA were meant to be distributed to frontline medical workers in the West Bank. It was later revealed, to public uproar, that at least several hundred doses of the vaccine were given to PA ministers and their staff, and other government officials and their families, as well as the Jordanian royal household. 

The PA has said that it could be as late as May before it starts rolling out the vaccine to the population, depending on when their shipments arrive. 

Meanwhile, Israel has continued to refuse to offer the vaccine to the broader Palestinian population, something that rights groups and activists say is required of Israel under international law as the occupying power. 


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