Weddings Wreck Palestinian Coronavirus Figures

RAMALLAH (AP) -
A demonstrator wearing a face mask against COVID-19 infection in the Palestinian town of Biddy on Monday. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

At the end of May, the Palestinian Authority appeared to have quashed a coronavirus outbreak in the its towns and cities, with only around 400 confirmed cases and just two fatalities in the territory, following a nearly three-month lockdown.

Then the wedding invitations went out.

Over the last few weeks, infections have skyrocketed across Palestinian areas, with more than 4,000 new cases and an additional 15 deaths. Authorities blame the surge on widespread neglect of social distancing and mask-wearing — and on the summer wedding season.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told a Cabinet meeting on Monday that 82 percent of cases were linked to weddings and funerals, saying that such large public gatherings must stop “immediately” or security forces would start breaking them up.

The Palestinian Authority imposed a strict five-day lockdown on Friday, forcing nearly all businesses to close and heavily restricting travel between towns and cities. The stay-at-home orders were renewed for another five days on Tuesday.

The epicenter of the renewed outbreak is in Chevron, the largest Palestinian city and a commercial hub of the territory. It accounts for around 75 percent of all active cases and more than two-thirds of all deaths, according to Ali Abed Rabu, a Palestinian Health Ministry official.

That makes weddings and other large public gatherings particularly risky. A major outbreak could overwhelm the Palestinian health sector, which has just 350 ventilators for a population of more than 2.5 million people.

Abu Snaineh, the mayor of Chevron, said ultra-conservative Muslims have also defied restrictions in order to pray in mosques. One group, known as Hezb al-Tahrir, has openly called on people to defy restrictions on group prayers, accusing the PA of “using coronavirus as a pretext to fight Islam.”