The Palestinian Authority on Saturday announced a new set of lockdown restrictions in the West Bank as coronavirus infections surge and Palestinians await, after continuing delays, the rollout of a significant vaccination program.
Israel, meanwhile, has secured ample supplies of vaccine for itself and outpaced the rest of the world in administering them, an imbalance that has added new frictions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The West Bank restrictions, set to last for 12 days, include the closure of universities, nighttime curbs on travel and nonessential commerce, and a ban on gatherings for weddings, parties and funerals.
The Palestinian minister of health, Mai al-Kaila, said on Saturday that 910 new cases and five deaths had been recorded in the West Bank in the previous 24 hours. Another Palestinian, she added, had died in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip after contracting Covid-19, as did three Palestinians from East Jerusalem in recent days.
According to her agency, there have been about 206,440 confirmed cases among Palestinians over the past year, including about 24,500 in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
Israeli officials say the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, assumed responsibility for health services in its areas of control when the interim peace agreements known as the Oslo Accords were signed in the mid-1990s. More than 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, and two million in Gaza.
Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority said Saturday that global competition was mostly to blame for delays in a significant vaccination rollout, but that a batch of vaccines were expected to arrive next week, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
Israel has vaccinated more than half its population of 9.2 million with a first dose, and more than a third with a second dose. So far, it has provided the Palestinian Authority with only 2,000 vaccine doses, promising 3,000 more.
Human rights advocates have argued that Israel should be vaccinating the Palestinian population in parallel with its own citizens. They cite the Fourth Geneva Convention, under which occupying powers are obligated to safeguard the public health of people living under occupation.
So far, the Palestinians have received 10,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, 2,000 of which were transferred from the West Bank to Gaza. Last weekend, another shipment of 20,000 Russian doses donated by the United Arab Emirates entered Gaza across the Egyptian border.
Palestinian officials expect to receive hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses through the global-sharing initiative Covax next month.