Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) WHO Situation Report 68

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report 68

Issued 18 March 2021


  • The first shipment of COVAX vaccines arrive to oPt
  • The national COVID-19 vaccination campaign will kick off on Sunday, 21 March
  • The COVID-19 virus continues to ravage the West Bank despite only slight increases in case numbers: many hospitals are overwhelmed with 115% occupancy, while 44% of patients in intensive care units are on ventilators
  • Gaza appears to be leveling off for now, with only slight increases in COVID-19 cases, despite a significant jump (30%) in numbers the previous week.


COVAX Vaccines Arrive in oPt
61,440 vaccine doses from COVAX arrived on March 17 and were delivered to cold storage units in Gaza and West Bank.  The Palestinian MoH will kick off its national COVID-19 vaccination programme with an official launch this Sunday.   #PlayYourRole, protect others #GetVaccinated





WHO preparedness, readiness and response

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

Coordination, planning and monitoring​

  • The PA announced on March 14 that all West Bank governorates enter a week of total lockdown starting March 15, as follows:
  • Total lockdown except for pharmacies and bakeries
  • No movement between governorates including the city of Jerusalem, except for medical personnel, essential goods and food
  • Governors will decide the exceptions for the opening of any sectors
  • Fines will be issued for breaches of safety measures
  • Restrictions have been eased in Gaza recently (since 18 February) with the opening of gyms, sports clubs and wedding halls – though restrictions may be brought back if cases spike again
  • Decisive public health measures and strict adherence to hygiene protocols + physical distancing continue to be essential to reduce the spread of COVID-19.


  • The WHO risk assessment remains very high: despite a slight slowdown in the number of cases in the West Bank, the increase remains significant: the death toll is still at record highs, with 45 deaths within 48 hours
  • Many West Bank hospitals are at full capacity, and in Ramallah, Al-Bireh and Jericho are overwhelmed with 115% occupancy
  • The West Bank governorate of Nablus (20.9%) still accounts for the highest of all active cases in oPt, followed by Hebron (15.1%), Gaza Strip (10.5%), Ramallah   (9.8%), Bethlehem (8.2%), Tulkarm (8.1%), East Jerusalem (6.9%), and Jenin (6.5%)
  • The overall Case Fatality Rate (CFR) remains at 1.1 %. The CFR is the proportion of deaths among identified confirmed cases
  • Infections across oPt are being exacerbated by the spread of new variants, in particular the variant B.1.1.7 (identified in the UK)
  • Health Minister Al-Kaila stated that the current epidemiological situation in Palestine is “very serious and unprecedented” and that 60% of Palestinians need to be vaccinated according to WHO recommendations in order to control the outbreak and start to return to normal economic life.

WHO Delivers Extraction Kits for COVID-19 Testing
WHO delivered this week 12 COVID-19 extraction kits to local health authorities in Gaza Strip. The extraction kits are part of essential lab supplies used in the testing of potential COVID-19 cases and offer the most effective way for detection and control of the disease in the community. With thanks to the generous support of the oPt Humanitarian Fund. 





COVID-19 Vaccine  

  • The global COVAX initiative under the guidance of the WHO, UNICEF, Gavi and CEPI delivered its first batches of COVID-19 vaccines to cold storage units in the West Bank (Nablus) and Gaza Strip on March 17. The shipment contained 61,440 vaccine doses in total, of which 24,000 were AstraZeneca which had arrived the night before, and 37,440 were Pfizer
  • The doses are being split according to the National Vaccine Deployment Plan, with 40,140 doses in total allotted for the West Bank, and 21,300 doses for Gaza
  • The PA MoH launches its National Vaccination Deployment Plan on March 21 at the Ramallah Medical Complex, during which it will vaccinate medics and health personnel, as well as cancer & kidney patients, and people over the age of 75
  • The MoH noted it would keep in storage the AstraZeneca vaccines until hearing a “scientific decision from the WHO”. This comes after reports of blood clots occurring in a handful of cases post vaccination with AstraZeneca
  • A shipment of 40,000 doses of Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Gaza on March 11, from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), bringing to 60,000 the total number of donated Sputnik V vaccines from the UAE.
  • A further 144,000 doses of AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccines are due to arrive through COVAX in batches at the end of March and end of April, bringing the total number of AZ vaccines arriving in oPt to 168,000
  • 4,900 people have received their first doses so far in the West Bank, of whom 90% are health workers in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and Covid-19 designated facilities
  • Palestinians can register for vaccination through
  • More than 50,000 Palestinian Arab workers have now received their first dose of the COVID-19 Moderna vaccine under an Israeli campaign to vaccinate around 120,000 Palestinian workers who hold permits to work and travel into Israel
  • In Gaza, around 10,000 people of priority groups, including frontline healthcare workers, have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, in one of seven assigned vaccination centres across the Gaza Strip.


What is WHO’s position on the safety of the Astra-Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine?  

WHO states that no causal link has been established between AstraZeneca and blood clotting and supports the continued use of this vaccine against coronavirus: “WHO is very much aligned with the position that we should continue immunization until we have clarified the causal relationship.” The WHO’s global advisory committee on vaccine safety is due to release a report on its findings on March 19. WHO statement 


Laboratory testing and diagnostics  ​

  • The number of tests conducted in the oPt has increased by 16% during the reporting period (12 – 18 March), with 54,269 tests conducted
  • In the Gaza Strip, an average of 2,363 tests per day have been conducted over the past week (12 – 18 March) with a positivity rate of 9%
  • In response to the critical shortage of COVID-19 laboratory supplies, WHO procured and delivered to the Gaza health authorities 12 COVID-19 extraction kits and essential supplies that are enough to support testing of 24,000 people.


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

  • As of 18 March, the overall occupancy rate of COVID-19 dedicated hospital beds in the Gaza Strip is 17%, with 91 of 540 beds occupied. Currently, 18 of the 90 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds (20%) are occupied, with four requiring invasive mechanical ventilation
  • The COVID-19 designated hospitals in the West Bank are near their full capacity. 90.5% of all COVID-19 designated beds and 93% of ICU beds are now occupied.


WHO Concludes Training of ICU Nurses
In the Gaza Strip, WHO concluded a seven-week training of trainers (ToT) course for 10 senior ICU nurses, in fundamentals of intensive care nursing. The trainers will be cascading the training for 200 junior nurses over the next 10 weeks, to enable them to work in ICUs of Gaza hospitals. The training included online sessions, face-to-face lectures and skill stations. The training will help enhance the capacity of the health system in Gaza to manage critically ill COVID-19 patients.




Maintaining essential health services 

  • WHO procured and delivered 60 computers to the Mental Health and Primary Healthcare Directorates, in the Gaza Strip. This delivery aims to strengthen the health information system and enhance the quality of non-communicable diseases surveillance and reporting
  • As part of its support to the mental health rehabilitation program at the community mental health centers (CMHC) in the Gaza Strip, WHO delivered handicraft kits for developing handicraft and food processing skills of 600 mental health patients.


More local information

WHO COVID-19 Dashboard for oPt

Gaza COVID-19 weekly epidemiological bulletin


Situation in the Eastern Mediterranean Region and Globally 

Eastern Mediterranean



Latest WHO advice and health information:

For updated WHO Publications and Technical Guidance on COVID-19, click here 


Further information:

Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, WHO oPt Head of Office,
Dr. Ayadil Saparbekov, WHO oPt Health Emergencies Team Lead,
Nicola Baldwin, WHO oPt External Relations and Communications Officer,



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