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Coronavirus: Palestinian Authority closes two West Bank cities after virus spike

Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh tells news conference Hebron will be closed for five days and Nablus for 48 hours
Palestinian security forces at checkpoint near Hebron in occupied West Bank enforce lockdown on Friday amid surge in new cases of Covid-19 (AFP)

The Palestinian Authority on Saturday said it was temporarily closing the cities of Hebron and Nablus in the occupied West Bank to contain the spread of coronavirus after a sharp rise in infections.

"The government decided to close the governorate of Hebron to prevent anyone from entering or exiting, with the exception of the transport of merchandise," Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said.

He told a news conference that Hebron would be closed for five days and Nablus for 48 hours, AFP reported.

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The measures come after an increase in Covid-19 infections in both cities. Hebron had 48 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total to 258, while authorities have reported 23 cases in Nablus. Authorities have reported a total of 687 cases in the West Bank, including two deaths so far.

According to the new guidelines, checkpoints will be erected in these areas and movement will be limited. Shops will be closed, with the exception of essential businesses like supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies, Haaretz reported.

Nablus district Governor Ibrahim Ramadan instructed all event halls, restaurants, clubs and salons to close - in addition to mosques and educational institutions - beginning Saturday morning. Similar steps were taken in Hebron, with the understanding that more restrictions will be put in place if infections do not decline.

The PA is still hesitant to consider reinstating a lockdown but has brought back a number of restrictions imposed at the beginning of the crisis, including banning mass gatherings for weddings, graduation parties, conferences and funerals. Businesses, mainly factories, restaurants and cafes, must follow coronavirus guidelines and Palestinians are obligated to wear masks and socially distance, Haaretz said.

According to Shtayyeh, cases rose after many restrictions were lifted because people haven’t been abiding by the regulations issued by the government. He also said many new cases originate from Palestinian workers or patients who went into Israel and then returned to the West Bank.

“I call all of our brothers within the Green Line not to enter the West Bank at all for 14 days,” he said. He also has banned Palestinians from working in Israeli settlements and said that if the rise in cases continues, the government will consider returning to a full closure.