by Alice Rothchild, MD
We’re pleased to repost this weekly report by JWE board member Alice Rothchild, MD, which was earlier posted by the Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council (JVP-HAC).
This resource will be updated regularly to provide a full picture of the unfolding pandemic and the medical, political and economic ramifications in real time.
Please note that Coronavirus cases are an underestimate given the lack of testing, resources, and asymptomatic carriers. We recognize that in resource poor areas just as Gaza and the West Bank, these numbers are a major underrepresentation and fail to reflect the impact of the pandemic on these populations.
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The West Bank and Gaza are experiencing a spike in cases, but vaccines are very gradually becoming available for front line workers, while the hospitals especially in the West Bank, are way beyond their limits. Cases in Israel, particularly for Jewish citizens, are coming under control and the economy is opening up, using guidelines and a hotly debated vaccine pass system. The upcoming election and Netanyahu’s desire to stay out of jail stimulated his aggressive vaccine program, abetted by the vaccine washing Western press. Israel vaccinated Palestinians who come to work in Israel but still denies any responsibility for the occupied population and currently is throwing out unused vaccine.
As of March 20 the numbers of Coronavirus cases (as best I can figure out) in the region:
West Bank 189,224 (includes 27,729 in East Jerusalem)
As of March 13 the numbers of Coronavirus cases (as best I can figure out) in the region:
West Bank 172,407 (includes 26,687 in East Jerusalem)
As of March 6 the numbers of Coronavirus cases (as best I can figure out) in the region:
West Bank 162,700 (includes 25,599 in East Jerusalem)
2020 will long be remembered as the year of COVID-19, not only for its devastating health, social, and economic consequences around the world, but for forcing the world to consider the implications of the pandemic for solidarity and equity. It will be remembered as a year that exposed the fragility of our global system of preparedness and response to pandemics, and the fragmentation of our research and development (R&D) ecosystem. But it will also be remembered as a time of unprecedented innovation and scientific collaboration, in which the global R&D components came together and produced novel technologies and analytic tools, assessed treatments, and developed safe and effective vaccines in record time.
Yet, even with these achievements, R&D collaboration across the ecosystem fumbled and millions more could die before the essential products, such as new therapeutics or vaccines that are the fruits of the research and product development enterprise, become widely available everywhere. The successes have ignited a debate about global fairness and solidarity, and whether aspects of the R&D enterprise and its resultant products should be treated as global public goods, available and affordable in an equitable manner.
March 14 Occupied territories & Israel
Israel’s R number – the number of people a person sick with COVID infects – has dropped to 0.78, a five-month low, as reported by Israel’s Military Intelligence. According to Health Ministry statistics, 5,988 Israelis have died of COVID-19. There are currently 626 Israelis in serious condition – down from 750 two weeks ago. On Saturday 773 people tested positive for the virus, after 2.9%.
Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have received 30,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by Israel. A total of 1,933 people have died of COVID in the West Bank, while 565 have died in Gaza.
March 14 Israel
Israeli nightclubs will reopen to those with the so-called green passport when the next set of coronavirus restrictions are lifted, although the exact arrangement will be decided upon later this week.
March 15 Israel
Israeli police handed out the most coronavirus fines in Arab localities in February, even though per capita infection rates in these localities were lower than they were elsewhere, according to data from the Enforcement and Collection Authority, which enforces police fines.
An analysis of the data indicates that 37 Arab localities led the top 40 localities list, with only three Jewish localities making the cut, and that there seems to be little connection between the per capita infection rate in these localities and the number of fines distributed. For example, in Modi’in Illit, where there were 46 patients for every 1,000 people, only 1.7 reports were given for the same number of residents as they were in Tamra, where 22 reports were given to the same number of citizens even though there were 10 patients for every 1,000 people.
Israel reopened its skies to flights from all locations and to all destinations, following a decision by the cabinet to remove some restrictions on incoming flights that would allow Israelis stuck abroad to return to the country ahead of the election.
Ministers, however, decided to keep the 3,000-person cap on daily arrivals. In its decision, the cabinet emphasized that the Health Ministry has the authority to cancel flights that could potentially endanger public health.
Israel has outpaced much of the world in vaccinating its population and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically. For many in Israel, life is slowly returning to normal. Once fully vaccinated, citizens receive a “Green Pass” — a digital passport that allows them to attend places such as gyms, cultural events, wedding halls and concerts. Israel is managing the return to normality but there are the legal and ethical questions that its decisions have raised, including the ethnics of the pass system and tensions with the ultra-Orthodox. For Netanyahu, solving the crisis of this pandemic was also solving his own political crisis and perhaps keeping him out of jail. Isabel Kershner reported “a slight feeling of guilt and sorrow” when it came to Palestinians not receiving vaccine.
New York Times
March 15 Occupied territories, Israel & United States
Seventeen House members call for ‘continued pressure’ on Israel to meet its obligations under international law to vaccinate Palestinians living under its control in a letter urging the Biden administration to pressure Israel to live up to its obligations as the occupying power in the Palestinian territories.
Middle East Eye
March 16 Gaza
At least 1,940 of the healthcare workers have already tested positive for COVID-19 in Gaza. Thus far Gaza has received 20,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine donated by the UAE and 2,000 purchased by the Palestinian Authority, which are administered at six locations across the territory. Another 40,000, also procured by the UAE, are due to arrive in the coming weeks. An epidemiologist at Gaza’s central COVID-19 testing lab said at this time the ministry of health has plans to secure vaccines for 60% of the population. Gaza’s ministry of health identified the priority will be front-line workers, including doctors, nurses, hospital administrative employees, EMTs, and others who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients. The second tier will vaccinate Palestinians age 55 and older, and individuals with chronic diseases.
In an empty ward at Al-Shifa hospital used to treat COVID-19 patients before transferring them to the specialized departments sits Dr. Mohammed Abdelmanem, a 47-year-old pulmonologist who expects to get a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine this week. The schedule was outlined by Gaza’s ministry of health, and Abdelmanem will be among the first few thousand to be inoculated out of a population of almost two million. He says he’s looking forward to finally not being afraid.
March 16 West Bank
Palestinian Minister of Health Mai al-Kaila said 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. For weeks, daily infection rates have been surpassing 2,000 new cases every 24 hours; a significant portion of the new cases are being traced to newer, more viral and more deadly variants, including the British variant.
March 16 West Bank & Israel
David Elhayani, the leader of the Yesha Council of West Bank mayors called on the Israeli government to vaccinate all Palestinians living in the territories during a meeting with the chairman of the Palestinian Workers’ Organization, Mohammed Arif Masad. Arif Masad, a resident of Burqin near Jenin in the West Bank, represents about 65,000 Palestinian laborers working in Israel and has recently announced his candidacy in the presidential elections for the Palestinian Authority.
March 16 Occupied territories & Israel
Israel vaccinated over 50,000 Palestinians with Israeli work permits against covid. Campaign to vaccinate Palestinians who work in Israel and West Bank settlements had high compliance by laborers, as settler leader called on Israel to give COVID jabs to all West Bank Palestinians.
Three weeks after she was denied a COVID-19 vaccination by Israel’s Health Ministry, a Palestinian student living in the occupied West Bank who studied at Tel Aviv University finally received the vaccine.
March 16 Occupied territories, Israel, & the West
Western governments and media are, once again, helping Israel sanitize the fallout from its criminally negligent coronavirus response. ABC News ran the headline: “Israel celebrates 5 millionth coronavirus vaccination” – a milestone in the country’s race to prove its global superiority by vaccinating its nine million people faster than anybody else. CBS News, Bloomberg, and the New York Times published similar fawning articles.
It helps, of course, that Israel was able to strike a data-sharing deal with Pfizer-BioNTech, according to which all Israeli vaccine needs have swiftly been met in exchange for a gargantuan sum and rampant violations of medical privacy.
But this sort of winner-takes-all logic of corona-capitalism means that there are lots of losers. News consumers who read beyond headlines will discover in the second paragraph of the ABC article that, by numerical coincidence, there are also five million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza – who, as usual, have nothing to be celebrating.
Middle East Eye
March 16 Israel
The Israeli Education Ministry has started letting principals see the list of teachers and students who are exempt from quarantine because they have either been vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus. At some high schools, other people have apparently seen the list as well. Teachers fear the database will be used to pressure them into getting vaccinated. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel calls this a ‘severe violation of privacy.’
Netanyahu’s claim that the Israeli economy weathered COVID with flying colors is not clearly supported by data. Economists are divided on the issue; GDP fell a modest amount but population growth is high, automatically boosting GDP.
About 150 people protested in Tel Aviv over the decision by prosecutors not to charge with rape a 21-year-old man who admitted to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in a state-run coronavirus facility for at-risk youths.
Demonstrators outside the offices of the Tel Aviv District Prosecution called out, “No is no! What part of ‘no’ didn’t you understand?” and carried placards reading “Enough victim-blaming” and “I believe you.”
Israel’s successful vaccination campaign and its subsequent positive spell in the international spotlight is a result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s politicization of medical matters in the run-up to this month’s General Election. The January deal between Israel and Pfizer allowed the stockpiling of vaccines and a swift inoculation of the population, in return for sharing data with the pharmaceutical company regarding efficacy and the societal and economic impact.
Middle East Monitor
March 17 West Bank
60,000 vaccines from the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative, earmarked for the Palestinian Authority, arrived in Ben-Gurion International Airport on March 17. The Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs are en route to the Beitunia crossing in the West Bank, facilitated by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). The Palestinian Health Minister says they will await WHO approval before using AstraZeneca shots.
World Health Organization’s vaccine-sharing initiative adds 62,000 doses to the occupied West Bank’s struggling inoculation program.
Middle East Eye
March 17 Occupied territories
The Palestinian Authority (PA) received the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from the global COVAX sharing initiative, in a boost to inoculations in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip which lag far behind Israel’s campaign. About a third of the doses have been allocated for the Gaza Strip.
March 17 Israel
Israel’s vaccination campaign was dramatically reflected in key coronavirus indicators as daily COVID-19 cases, the rate of infection, and the percentage of positive tests continued to plummet, according to data sets from the Health Ministry and the Israeli army. According to the data, the R-number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – dropped to 0.7, the lowest figure in months.
Israel’s High Court ruled that the 3,000 person quota for arrivals to Israel and limitations on leaving the country for those who have not yet been vaccinated for the coronavirus is unconstitutional. A panel of judges led by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut ruled that Israel cannot extend the limitations after they expire – two days before Israel’s election. In a damning verdict, the judges noted that “Israel is the only democratic country in the world where the right of citizens to enter their country has been so sweepingly restricted.” The Israeli Knesset passed a bill allowing digital surveillance of all arrivals to Israel who are mandated to enter coronavirus quarantine.
In a few months, if everything goes as planned, Israel’s public health system is expected to enter a new phase in its vaccination campaign against the coronavirus and begin vaccinating about 600,000 young people ages 12 through 15. This time the challenge isn’t a logistical one and doesn’t involve any uncertainly regarding the availability of the vaccine. Instead, what’s ahead is a public relations effort to explain the importance of getting vaccinated to the recipients, or in this case, to their parents.
March 17 United States
The CDC recently published demographic data on people receiving the COVID-19 vaccines at the national level. There is a lack of a dedicated racial or ethnic identifier for Arab Americans and other Middle Easterners. Thus, these groups are labeled as “white” in health data collection of the CDC. Unlike their “white” counterparts, however, Middle Eastern people in the US suffer from a host of economic, immigration, physical and mental health effects unique to their group.
March 18 Occupied territories
WHO occupied Palestinian territories Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report 68, Issued March 18 for March 5 – 18. Good graphics.
March 18 Occupied territories & Israel
By March 17, Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said that hospitals in the West Bank had exceeded 110% capacity, and that the current situation in Palestine was “very dangerous”. The occupied Palestinian territories recorded nearly 216,000 cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and 2,343 deaths in a population of around five million.
But with Israel’s vaccine rollout having slowed in recent weeks, reports have surfaced of Israeli authorities having a surplus of vaccines that health officials are struggling to find any use for, resulting in the waste of thousands of vaccine doses every week. A February report in Ha’aretz revealed that hundreds of doses of the vaccine are thrown in the garbage every day in Israel as a result of Israelis cancelling or not showing up to their designated vaccination appointments.
Middle East Eye
Israel said it vaccinated 105,000 Palestinian workers with a first dose. Meanwhile, cases in Israel continued to decline as nearly half of Israelis are fully vaccinated, and the government approved new regulations for sport and culture.
Israel administered the first dose of the COVID vaccine to 105,000 Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel or in West Bank settlements, completing the first stage of its campaign, the Coordinator for Government Activity in the Territories – the government body that oversees civilian matters in the West Bank – said. On April 4, the dedicated vaccination centers – eight at checkpoints, and five within settlements – will reopen so the second doses can start being given, according to the COGAT statement.
March 18 Israel
With five days to go until the election, pressure is mounting in the Arab parties due to uncertainty over how high voter turnout will be. Joint List and United Arab List activists are focusing their efforts on organizing for Election Day, given the coronavirus’ effect on voting procedures and because there is much more competition – not just between the two parties but with the Zionist parties too.
March 19 Occupied territories
Palestinians will kick off their national vaccination campaign March 21, offering long-awaited jabs to the general public for the first time following the arrival of does from the GAVI Alliance and COVAX, a vaccine-sharing program. To get a better sense of how these little vials get across the globe and into the arms of Palestinians–not to mention all while being transported at subzero temperatures– Mondoweiss spoke with Giorgio Figus, head of supply chain for UNICEF in the oPt.
March 19 Occupied territories & Israel
247,641 Palestinians tested positive for COVID-19; 221,221 recoveries; and 2,629 deaths.
Of those who tested positive, 161,495 live in the West Bank, 58,417 live in Gaza, and 27,729 live in East Jerusalem.
826,609 Israeli tested positive for COVID-19; 800,728 recoveries; 6,073 deaths; 8,731,727 vaccine doses administered.
For the third week in a row Palestinian hospitals are overwhelmed with many reporting a 115% capacity in ICUs, as the West Bank’s third wave continues to tax the local health system. Deaths hit a record high, with 45 dying in the last 48 hours.
The big picture
Despite the rise in hospitalizations–“41% increase in ventilator use over the last week and a 23% increase at ICUs, which were already at capacity last week,” according to the WHO–the rate of new cases has finally started to slow. Over the seven days, there was an overall 14% increase in new cases. While that means the curve is going up, it is a much more controllable figure than the over 100% new cases we saw two weeks ago in certain West Bank cities. Officials tightened lockdown measures in the West Bank, shuttering all business for the next week with the exception of pharmacies and bakeries.
Meanwhile, Palestinians are days away from launching their national vaccination campaign where the general public will be able to get COVID-19 shots for the first time. Until now, vaccines have near exclusively been available to healthcare workers. The first tier will include people over 75 and those with chronic conditions.
Thanks to Trude Bennett.