GAZA CITY: The Palestinian government is ending its coronavirus lockdown following a declining number of cases, the prime minister said Monday.
As of Sunday, 602 cases had been recorded in the Palestinian Authority, including Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There have been five deaths and 475 people have recovered from the disease. The Palestinian Authority imposed a state of emergency on March 5 after the first coronavirus cases were recorded in Bethlehem.
Ministries and industry sectors will resume operations after the Eid Al-Fitr holiday, while churches and mosques can reopen on Tuesday with social distancing and other preventive measures in place.
Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said the decision was based on a recommendation from the Emergency Committee to Confront Coronavirus after random checks on Palestinian workers returning from Israel. The risk had receded and the curve of cases had fallen “which means that we are in a new phase of facing the disease, which is the easing of procedures.”
Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank work inside Israel, which has recorded about 17,000 cases over the past few months thereby increasing the number of cases in the West Bank.
Shtayyeh said that places of worship could open on the condition that people wore masks, brought their own prayer mat and were prevented from carrying out ablutions on the premises.
Courts will reopen after the Eid holiday, and so will all ministries, official bodies and industrial and commercial establishments starting on Wednesday.
But the prime minister added that restrictions and strict procedures would return in the event that new infections were discovered.
National Economy Minister Khaled Al-Osaily told Arab News that steps to ease restrictions came amid an absence of any cases during the past two days, with the government interested in a return to normal life.
Al-Osaily said the economy was a factor when the government took its decision to ease restrictions.
He added that local authorities would monitor progress and take all the necessary measures, according to developments on the ground, in a way that respected people’s safety, security and health.
Palestinians welcomed the reopening of commercial facilities after months of closure.
“This is the happiest news I have heard in months,” waiter Rizk Khalaf told Arab News. “We need work, we cannot live without it.”
Nasr Abdel Karim, a professor of financial and economic sciences at the Arab American University in Jenin, told Arab News that the government was trying to repair the economic damage caused by the state of emergency.
He said that the government had decided that continuing the severe lockdown would prolong the “bleeding” of the “fragile and distressed” Palestinian economy, and that the loosening of restrictions was mainly motivated by economics.
But he warned against a failure to properly and cautiously deal with the easing of restrictions. The worst case scenario should remain in place because the emergence of new infections could make it harder to return to tough measures, he said.