Palestinians laud government anti-coronavirus measures, with concerns about economy impact


The Palestinians largely commended their government’s tough measures of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are also concerned that the lockdown would lead to unwanted economic difficulties.

Under the state of emergency declared by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 5, the Palestinian government has taken a series of strict measures to stem the COVID-19 outbreak, which started in the tourist city of Bethlehem.

Whenever a case of infection was confirmed, the health authorities immediately cordoned off the area and imposed a lockdown.

After other cases were confirmed in other West Bank cities, such as Ramallah, local authorities usually took steps including sterilizing public facilities, such as the homes of elderly, city hall councils, churches and mosques. The coffee shops and restaurants, except for take-out meals, were also closed.

Amid the hike in the number of infections, the Palestinian government on Sunday declared a lockdown on the entire Palestinian territories, urging citizens not to leave their homes for 14 days.

Since then, the once bustling streets in the city centers became almost empty as shops and restaurants were closed.

Yet, many were concerned about the economic impact of this lockdown, though it helps control the virus spread.

“What the government did was very important to stop the spread of coronavirus, because our health system lacks the capabilities of dealing with a big outbreak. However, my business has completely stopped, and I don’t know how much lower the wages would go,” said Samer Shalabi, a Ramallah-based company owner.

Only a few shops remained open, including the banks that are operating on emergency mode, as well as the bakeries, pharmacies and grocery shops.

Raja Taha, a bank employee, is currently on a 14-day leave because the banks were forced to reduce the number of workers and cancel many services for individuals, who are urged to resort to e-banking.

“I’m not used to staying at home, so my eating habits have changed and I’m doing less sports because the gyms are closed,” she said.

Amal Ghadban owns a bakery in a densely populated neighborhood in Ramallah, but she decided to close it down during the lockdown.

“It’s an uneasy situation, and we support the measures for the safety of our people. Nevertheless, the main question is not about the situation today, but after the crisis is over, what will happen to small and medium-sized businesses, which is a big sector in Palestine,” said Ghadban.

Meanwhile, Hasan Hammad, who runs a small restaurant in a high-end neighborhood in Ramallah, said that the situation may impact the entire food and beverage sector and lead to a rise in unemployment.

“Shutting down the restaurants, even if only take-outs are allowed, is going to have a long-term impact on us and the costumers. While we see that the government is doing its job in controlling the situation, we are worried about the next season,” Hammad said.

He said there should be plans put in place to help the emerging economy to stand on its feet and not increase the unemployment.

“I hope that all those, who were laid off or stopped from work, would return to their jobs,” he said.

Palestine said it was following the Chinese example in dealing with the pandemic, which explains why it has been largely successful in controlling the outbreak amidst a rise in the infections in Israel and other neighboring countries.

Nevertheless, the joint borders between the Palestinian territories and Israel, and the tens of thousands of Palestinian workers in Israel, pose a big threat in light of the alarming rise in the confirmed cases in Israel.

Palestinian Minister of Labor Nasri Abu Jesh said that Israel has failed to comply with its promises to provide the Palestinian workers with proper accommodation and protection during their stay in Israel.

He said that many Palestinian workers began returning home from Israel, after losing their jobs because their employers reneged on the promise by the authorities.

The Palestinians already suffer from a high unemployment rate, because the Palestinian economy is highly dependable on the services sector, which is the hardest-hit by the coronavirus.
However, many Palestinians said that this is not the first time their economy faces hardship in recent years, adding that they are hopeful that the Palestinian economy will be able to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Enditem

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