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Palestinians to wait months as Israel set to roll-out Covid-19 vaccine

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM, Palestine: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received a Covid-19 vaccine jab, kicking off a roll-out over the coming days. As Israel is all set to begin rolling out a major coronavirus vaccination campaign after Netanyahu reached out personally to the head of United States pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation will have to wait much longer.

Israelis could soon return to normal life and an economic revival, even as the virus continues to menace Palestinian towns and villages just a few kilometres away.

Israel reached an agreement with Pfizer to supply eight million doses of its newly approved vaccine – enough to cover almost half of Israel’s population of nearly nine million since each person requires two doses.

Israel has mobile vaccination units with refrigerators that can keep the Pfizer shots, developed with German company BioNTech, at the required minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit).

It plans to begin vaccinations as soon as next week, with a capacity of more than 60,000 shots a day.

Israel signed a separate agreement with Moderna earlier this month to buy six million doses of its vaccine – enough for another three million Israelis.

Israel’s vaccination campaign will include Jewish settlers living deep inside the illegally occupied West Bank, who are Israeli citizens, but not the territory’s 2.5 million Palestinians. They will have to wait for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank under interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s.

Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, territories the Palestinians seek for their future state, in the 1967 Middle East war.

The PA hopes to get vaccines through a WHO-led partnership with humanitarian organisations known as COVAX, which aims to provide free vaccines for up to 20% of the population of poor countries, many of which have been hit especially hard by the pandemic.

But the programme has secured only a fraction of the two billion doses it hopes to buy over the next year, has yet to confirm any actual deals and is short on cash.

Rich countries have already reserved about nine billion of the estimated 12 billion doses the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year.

Complicating matters is the fact that the Palestinians have only one refrigeration unit – in the oasis town of Jericho – capable of storing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Ali Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian health official, said the PA was in talks with Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and the makers of a largely untested Russian vaccine, but has yet to sign any agreements beyond COVAX.

The PA hopes to vaccinate 20% of the population through COVAX, beginning with health workers, according to Rabbo.

“The remainder will depend on Palestine purchasing from the global supply, and we are working with several companies,” he said.

Israel has reported more than 366,000 cases, including at least 3,000 deaths.

The Palestinian Authority has reported more than 85,000 cases in the occupied West Bank, including more than 1,141 deaths as of December 21. The outbreak has intensified in recent weeks.

The situation is even direr in Gaza, home to two million Palestinians, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas was elected in 2007.

Authorities there have reported more than 30,000 cases, including 220 deaths.

With Gaza’s Hamas rulers shunned by the international community, the territory will also rely on the Palestinian Authority.

That means it could be several months before any large-scale vaccinations are carried out in the impoverished coastal strip.

Israel’s Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told Kan Radio that Israel was working to attain a surplus of vaccines for Israelis and that “should we see that Israel’s demands have been met and we have additional capability, we will certainly consider helping the Palestinian Authority”.

Covid-19 claims more lives in Palestine

The Palestinian Health Ministry recorded 30 new fatalities related to the novel coronavirus and 2,149 cases.

The ministry said 18 deaths were recorded in the occupied West Bank, while 12 others in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Thursday’s figures pushed the total number of cases to 133,186, including 106,840 recoveries and 1,141 deaths.

Battling coronavirus

The outbreak of Covid-19 in the occupied Palestinian territories, and Gaza specifically, highlights the effect of an ongoing blockade on public health.

In 2007, following Hamas’s takeover, Israel and Egypt imposed a land, air, and sea blockade of Gaza. According to Israel’s cabinet decision at the time, Gaza was declared as being governed by a “hostile entity” due to Hamas’s attacks on Israeli citizens.

The blockade included prohibitions on what is known as dual use materials (that can be used for both civilian and military purposes). The extensive nature of the blockade has had a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of residents in Gaza.

The Palestinian Ministries of Health in both Gaza and Ramallah have acknowledged that their capacity to contain the spread of Covid-19 is limited by ongoing and pre-existing shortages in health-care equipment, including medications and disposable equipment.

 Palestine’s economy shrinks by 12% due to Covid-19

An official Palestinian report said on Sunday that the Palestinian economy has recorded a decline of up to 12% in 2020 because of the novel coronavirus.

In a joint statement, the Palestinian Monetary Authority and the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics said that most economic activities have remarkably shrunk, which led to a significant decrease in the per capita income.

In a bid to avoid the virus, the Palestinian authorities have imposed partial and comprehensive closure, especially in the second quarter of 2020, which affected the GDP.

“The total consumption in Palestine has declined by 6%, while the investment has dropped by 36%,” the report said.