Israel to test Palestine workers for COVID-19 at checkpoints

Coronavirus spreading in the Middle East (Sabaaneh - MEMO)

Middle East Monitor  /  December 10, 2020

Israel is expected to start imposing random mandatory coronavirus tests of Palestinian workers at checkpoints in the occupied West Bank in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories warned: “Any worker who refuses to be checked will not be permitted to enter Israel.”

Around 133,000 Palestinians with special permits work in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The news comes as Israel received its first shipment of the coronavirus vaccines yesterday and a distributor predicted the country would have enough for about a quarter of the population by the end of the year, Reuters reports.

Palestine, however, is only expected to receive its first coronavirus vaccinations in March, Minister of Health Mai Al-Kaila said in a press conference in Ramallah yesterday, the Times of Israel reported.

“We expect that our first vaccination will be around the end of January, early February, by March it will be with us,” said Palestine’s Al-Kaila.

However, she explained that health authorities in the occupied West Bank have warned about the poor choice of storage locations and transportation requirements for the Pfizer vaccine which must be transported at minus 70C and used within five days of thawing.

“The Pfizer vaccine requires logistical factors, freezing, a freezer which can keep its contents at -75 to -80 degrees [celsius]. We have only one freezer in Palestine for storage. And it won’t hold large quantities. We would also need smaller freezers so as to move the vaccine between different provinces,” Al-Kaila explained.

“That’s not available for us, so we’ve struck that possibility,” she added.

Therefore, Palestine is one of the 189 countries that have joined the WHO-led Covax initiative, which is working to ensure equitable vaccine access across the world.

WHO Chief Scientist, Soumya Swaminathanin, said in a press conference in Geneva yesterday that the apex public health organisation hopes to have at least half a billion doses of a working COVID-19 vaccine ready in the first quarter of 2021, through the Covax facility.

According to Al-Kaila, priority access to vaccines as they arrive will be available to medical responders, followed by members of the Palestinian security services and those deemed to be in at-risk groups.

According to Wafa news agency, 24 people have died of coronavirus in Palestine in the past 24 hours, with 2,181 new cases recorded in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

There are currently 81 coronavirus patients hospitalised and in a serious condition; 24 are on ventilators.

“According to Covax guidelines, the first priority ought to go to medical first responders. We told them that we wanted to also prioritise the security services who work alongside us in the field, the elderly, pregnant women, and the chronically ill,” said Al-Kaila.