The coronavirus situation in the Palestinian Authority is far worse than is being reported by the Palestinian media, according to Al-Ayyam columnist Abd al-Nasser al-Najjar.

In a July 11 column, Al-Najjar called the P.A. negligent for its failure to tackle the Palestinian public’s widespread disregard for emergency guidelines and warned that the Palestinian Health Ministry is not properly set up for the mass testing required to combat the pandemic, that test results are provided much too late to do any good, and that the statistics it reports are not accurate.

He added that without strong leadership “that is capable of making difficult decisions in real time and putting out the spreading fire,” the Palestinians will end up testing the herd immunity theory with their own lives, resulting in many deaths.

The following are translated excerpts from his column:

“The night of Sunday, May 25, 2020, was packed with events … That night, I was in the city of Hebron. My journalist colleagues invited me to an iftar [Ramadan break-fast] feast at a restaurant. There, I asked a respected friend about the situation in the district, and about the lockdown. He said: ‘Things are out of control.’

”During the iftar, I was informed about a mass march heading towards the district [headquarters] shouting slogans about fully opening up the city. To preserve the public order, the marchers’ demands were met, on condition that the cautionary guidelines were strictly followed. At that time, the mosques were full of worshippers, despite the Ministry of Religious Endowment’s instructions to pray at home.

“Also, during the lockdown, some people took advantage of their situation—that is, parts of Hebron under Palestinian control and parts under occupation control—to avoid following the guidelines, and held Friday prayers in mosques under occupation control, with the participation of many people from the nearby neighborhoods.

“This is how it was in Hebron from the week before the end of Ramadan to the government’s [May 25] announcement of the lifting of the lockdown on condition that the rules ensuring caution were followed.

“With regard to prayers for the holiday [i.e., Eid al-Fitr], however much we talk about [how openly the guidelines were flouted] it will never be an exaggeration.

“Where are the preventive measures, in light of the huge numbers of residents [who attended] weddings that were postponed, and funerals—suddenly and without warning undoing all the achievements of which the government was so proud, because we thought that we had accomplished what the great powers could not. Now these achievements seem like nothing more than a false hallucination. Today, Hebron is the ‘Wuhan of Palestine.’ The number of people infected in Hebron relative to the number of residents is perhaps the highest in the world.

“Gradually, we are hearing voices demanding government measures to stop the catastrophe, by means of quarantine and by means of [purchasing] ventilators and equipment for the hospitals, and we have started to quickly follow up after events in an attempt to control the spread of the pandemic. But the important question now is, have we have lost control? Is this our last chance? No one has a satisfactory answer. Is the number of cases higher than the number published? Maybe, but there is no scientific proof of this.

“The rapid spread [of the disease] in more than one focal point has gobbled up the map of focal points, the map of those who came into contact with patients, and the map of cases. At first, when they announced coronavirus infections and were taking samples from anyone who came into contact with a patient, whether or not they were [showing signs of] infection, the numbers [of people being tested] were limited to the [Palestinian] Health Ministry’s [capability] to carry out the tests. Now, the situation has changed. The ministry cannot test people who come into contact with patients, and the number of cases [in Hebron] is in the thousands. Today, tests are done only on people who show clear symptoms, and they receive the results four or five days later because of the [lab] workers’ overload.

“Yesterday, I was told that a first-degree family member was infected. Bearing in mind that he is a doctor and in charge of an UNRWA clinic at the Al-Fawwar refugee camp, and also heads the coronavirus emergency committee, I called him to find out the details. He said that the situation overall was much worse than depicted in the media, because everyone, without exception, is being careless, that the number of cases was doubling every day, and that some of the test [results] were arriving late.

“He said that last week an old woman had died after becoming infected, and that the Health Ministry had officially announced this. Less than half an hour later, in the home of the same family, her sister in law, who was also ill [with the virus], died, but she was not transferred to the hospital because her [test] result had not yet been received. After her death, it turned out that her [test] result was positive, but she was not registered as having died of the coronavirus.

“Every day, hundreds [more] are infected. Maybe the lockdown regulations will slow the spread [of the virus], but as long as there are those who act irresponsibly or are certain that they will not be punished, the rapid spread will not be stopped.”

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