Highlights

  • The oPt has witnessed a slight decrease in the numbers of newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in the reporting period
  • Public health restrictions have been extended in the West Bank and continue in the Gaza Strip
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To support COVID-19 testing in the Gaza Strip, on January 5, WHO delivered extraction kits to conduct 60,000 tests. Testing is still one of the most effective ways to detect and control the spread of the virus within the community. This delivery has been made possible thanks to the Government of Kuwait. 

WHO preparedness, readiness and response

WHO is continuing to work with partners to support Ministry of Health’s (MoH) efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Coordination, planning and monitoring​

Public health restrictions continue in the West Bank (until 17 January) and the Gaza Strip until further notice. On 3 January, the Palestinian Authority announced the extension of the following public health measures to contain the COVID-19 spread in the West Bank:

  • Movement is prohibited between all governorates and inside governorates, weekend movement is prohibited (Fridays and Saturdays) with a night curfew on movement and transportation (from 19:00 – 6:00) in all cities, towns, villages and camps
  • Only pharmacies and bakeries are allowed to open. Restaurants, cafes, health clubs, barber and beauty salons, operate at a work pace of not more than 30 percent, with strict health procedures
  • Weddings, gatherings funerals, festivals, gatherings or events continue to be banned
  • Prayers in mosques and churches must follow special protocols
  • Ministries and official institutions, as well as civil and private institutions, operate at emergency level, with no more than 30% of their human resource capacity
  • School attendance will now be allowed for limited grades (blended online and in-class learning from grade 1 – 6 and 12) for two weeks, other grades (6-11) to resume after this period. Nurseries and kindergartens remain open, universities and other institutes to close
  • Hospitals in the private and public sector must allocate wards to receive COVID-19 patients. Municipal and emergency services remain open
  • Police and security agencies will monitor gatherings and any crowded places and penalties will be applied to those not following the rules.

Surveillance

In an effort to gather data on the prevalence of COVID-19 in Palestine and provide guidance on prevention and control measures, the Ministry of Health, in cooperation with WHO and the Palestinian National Institute of Public Health, is conducting a standardized serological prevalence survey of COVID-19, targeting over 3,000 households in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is part of an international study covering 55 countries. 

A team of 54 lab technicians and social workers conducted the survey throughout the West Bank and Gaza (pictured in Gaza) at the end of December, taking blood samples to test for COVID-19 antibodies and conducting  interviews to gather information on demographics, hospitalization history, and symptoms of acute illness since the outbreak started.  

  • The WHO risk assessment remains very high
  • This week, the oPt witnessed a slight decrease in newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a 20% drop to 6,957 cases for the reporting period
  • The overall Case Fatality Rate (CFR) remains at 1 %. The CFR is the proportion of deaths among identified confirmed cases
  • On 31 December, 15 deaths were reported in the Gaza Strip, the highest daily death toll since the start of the pandemic
  • Gaza now accounts for 50% of all active cases in oPt, followed by the West Bank governorates of Nablus (12%), East Jerusalem and Ramallah (7%), Hebron and Tulkarm (4%), Jenin (3%) and Bethlehem (2%) as of 5 January.

Laboratory testing and diagnostics  ​

A Real-Time PCR machine was delivered to the Ministry of Health’s Central Public Health Laboratory in Ramallah to support the expansion of COVID-19 testing in the West Bank. This donation is in addition to a delivery of a DNA extraction machine in late 2020, made possible thanks to the Norwegian Government. 

  • The number of tests conducted in the oPt has decreased by 5% during the reporting period (1 – 6 January), with 27,652 tests conducted compared to the previous week
  • In the Gaza Strip, an average of 2,221 tests per day have been conducted in the past week (24 December – 6 January) with a positivity rate of 29%, indicating every third person is testing positive and testing should be scaled up. On 5 January, health authorities reported enough COVID-19 tests for 15 days until 20 January
  • WHO procured and delivered 30 extraction kits to conduct 60,000 tests on 5 January 2021 (pictured), and 100 RT-PCR kits to conduct 9,600 tests on 23 December, to support testing of contacts and COVID-19 suspected cases in the Gaza Strip
  • On 3 January, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society announced that COVID-19 PCR testing is now available at their laboratories for a small fee, making them the first non-MoH laboratory in Gaza to provide this service. They currently have the capacity to conduct 100 tests per day, mainly for those who need negative PCR test before travel and those that prefer to do the test privately.

Infection Prevention and Control (IPC), Isolation and Case Management, Operations Support and Logistics 

HEALTH WORKER PROFILE: Roberto Carlos Estevez Montes 
“Here in Gaza, and especially in the European Gaza Hospital, the main COVID-19 facility, I am working with motivated nursing staff, who are doing their best to help COVID-19 patients. Everyday, we deal with patients who need long term care, with invasive and noninvasive ventilation. Some of them are in critical condition and seriously ill. This is hard not only on patients but also on their families and on us as well as medical staff.  It impacts the mental health of everyone involved in the current situation. As a WHO consultant and emergency nurse, I did not think twice when I was offered to come to Gaza to support the medical teams in managing COVID-19 patients who had to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I heard great things about the place, the people, the culture but also about the big challenges and the vulnerability of the Gaza Strip. My main job is to do on the job training for the young staff nurses inside the ICU and focus on improving their skills in the non-invasive mechanical ventilation, oxygen therapy and managing drug treatment. I also share evidence-based best practices as I worked in Spain during the first two waves of this pandemic in both hospital and prehospital settings. From the suffering I have seen because of this pandemic, I am calling on everyone to be responsible. We all must adhere to the precautionary measures, maintain social distancing, wash our hands regularly, use masks that cover our nose and mouth, and monitor our health and watch out for symptoms.”   

  • As of 6 January, the overall occupancy rate of dedicated COVID-19 hospital beds in the Gaza Strip is 46%, with 247 of 540 beds occupied.  Currently, 23 of the 90 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds (26%) are occupied, including seven patients on invasive mechanical ventilation, as of 6 January.

“I found the course to be useful, especially to treat patients requiring intensive care and ventilators. These skills will help saves the lives of our patients,” a participant reflects on the value of participating in one of two sets of trainings hosted in late 2020. The first, Basic Assessment and Support in Intensive Care course, was held for more than 60 doctors and nurses working with COVID-19 patients who had some or minimal knowledge of intensive care unit practices and was supported by the MoH, WHO, the Palestinian National Institute of Public Health (PNIPH)  and with Juzoor for Health and Social Development and Augusta Victoria Hospital. The second course in Basic Life Support trained 365 doctors, nurses, and emergency medical technicians working in emergency units at governmental and private sector hospitals  in partnership with MoH. In 2021,  PNIPH aims to continue these and additional advanced trainings.  

COVID-19 Vaccine  

  • Vaccines are a critical tool to collectively save lives and to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. There are almost 200 vaccine candidates in development, of which 56 are in various stages of clinical testing. On December 31 WHO approved the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine for emergency use listing, the first to receive emergency validation from WHO; the vaccine is now used in vaccination campaigns in several countries, following the approval from stringent regulatory authorities. The Moderna vaccine is also used in some countries, following emergency authorization by regulatory agencies. There are further vaccines developed by several producers (Astrazeneca, Gamaleya, Sinovac, Sinopharm) with demonstrated efficacy in clinical trials, all of whom are in contact with WHO regarding regulatory review and are expected to be reviewed for Emergency Use Listing in early 2021
  • The Palestinian Authority MoH will receive support through the Gavi COVAX AMC Facility for an allocation of COVID-19 vaccines to cover 20% of the population in the oPt, to target the priority groups of frontline health workers, the elderly population and those with underlying health conditions. The MoH plans to procure vaccines for an additional 40% of its population through various mechanisms, providing coverage to all Palestinian adults, to ensure a total of 60% of the population will be covered, which includes those most at risk. WHO emergency use listing for vaccine(s) under the Gavi COVAX AMC Facility is expected to progress over the coming weeks, with allocation of approved vaccine batches expected to be deployed in early to mid 2021
  • WHO and UNICEF are working with the Ministry of Health to develop and finalize the national vaccine deployment plan, and to support implementation and monitoring
  • Safe and effective vaccines will save lives: but for the foreseeable future it remains essential to continue wearing masks, to physically distance and to avoid crowds
  • The COVID-19 challenges can only be addressed collectively and in solidarity: no country will be safe until everyone is safe and all countries are protected.