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Israel slaps coronavirus closure order on Palestinian-ruled areas of West Bank

427 Israelis and 44 Palestinians have been infected by the novel coronavirus [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 March, 2020

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Palestinian-administered areas of the occupied West Bank were closed off on Wednesday as part of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Israel closed off Palestinian-administered areas of the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, an official said.

"From today, a closure has taken place in the West Bank," said Yotam Shefer, who heads the international department of COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories.

He told journalists the decision had been taken in conjunction with the Ramallah-based Palestinian administration, who on Sunday also announced the closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. 

Meanwhile, the border crossing with the Gaza Strip has been closed in recent days and will remain so, Shefer added.

Read also:'Drink cow's urine, shower with dung': Hindu group battles coronavirus with bold bovine brew

Around 70,000 Palestinians in the West Bank work in Israel, crossing back and forth daily.

They now have three days to either enter permanently for the coming months or remain in the West Bank, the Palestinian government announced on Tuesday night.

Palestinians who work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank will still be allowed to cross over daily, Shefer said.

Around 400,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank, communities considered illegal under international law. 

Israel has imposed tough restrictions to restrict the spread of the deadly virus.

People have been ordered to stay at home unless going to buy food or medicine, seeking medical attention or travelling to workplaces where no more than 10 people are present.

So far 427 Israelis and 44 Palestinians have been infected, but no deaths have been registered.

The dire situation has also prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to use emergency powers allowing the country's internal security agency to track those suspected or confirmed of being infected through monitoring their mobile phones.

The invasion of privacy has raised serious concerns in the country, with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel describing it as a ''dangerous precedent''.

Nitza Horowitz, leader of the liberal opposition party Meretz, called the tracking of citizens as amounting to ''a severe violation…of basic civil liberties''. Little was said about the intelligence service's tracking of Palestinians.

Netanyahu's authority to implement the measures were also bought into question - some accusing him of trying to acquire "dictator-like powers" - with the country's battle against the virus offset by a continued political crisis.

The former is currently Israel's interim leader, while his opponent, Benny Gantz, is the prime minister-designate and attempting to form a government, although it remains unclear whether he can muster the support he needs among the ranks of the Knesset.

Global pandemic

The COVID-19 virus, which was first detected in China's Wuhan in December, has killed more than 8,231 people worldwide, while over 203,691 infections have been confirmed.

The majority of those that infected with corona experience only mild or moderate symptoms, including fever and a dry cough.

However, concerns have been raised for the elderly and those with existing health issues, who have reportedly suffered with more severe complications, including pneumonia and even death.

The World Health Organisation this month estimated the novel coronavirus kills 3.4 percent of all those infected.

But for people aged over 80 the fatality rate was 21.9 percent, according to a report the WHO carried out with the Chinese authorities.

As of yet, there are no known treatments for the virus, though more than 82,866 have already recovered from the infection.

The World Health Organisation has confirmed those who experience a milder version of the virus recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

As the pandemic continues to spread across the world, dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine while governments continue to impose strict restrictions or "lockdowns" to help stem the spread of the virus.

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