The first few confirmed cases of COVID-19 were detected at a hotel in Bethlehem in early March. The Palestinian Government’s response was swift and firm, ordering the whole city to be on lockdown and banning entry of all tourists. As cases surged, a comprehensive restriction on movement between and inside of Palestinian cities was enforced. The stringent measures by the government relatively controlled the spread of the virus the first three weeks, but an alarming surge raised doubts around just how much we could continue controlling the outbreaks. A sustained rise in the number of cases could cause the strained health system to collapse.
Chart: Chart showing an alarming surge - Source: Ministry of Health
The government has been transparent with the citizens around COVID-19 cases, which was actually reflected in a recent poll revealing high satisfaction among citizens of the government performance in responding to COVID-19. The Palestinian Prime Minister has asked in more than one occasion for Palestinian public’s insights and intelligence to deal with the effects of COVID-19. UNDP responded through its Accelerator Lab by upgrading the “Solve It” crowdsourcing platform to have an open communication channel with interactive functions to solicit ideas from youth to tackle socio-economic effects of the outbreak.
The immediate and foreseen impacts of the pandemic dramatically exacerbate the profound challenges resulting from the dire political situation the State of Palestine is facing. The measures accompanying its spread go far beyond the health sector. Daily waged workers, despite the government’s ban, continued to move to secure sustenance for their families. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs), constituting 99 percent of businesses in the State of Palestine, may not sustain the closure for a prolonged period of two to three months. This would detrimentally affect not only owners of these businesses, but the already fragile Palestinian economy as a whole. Some of those who now cannot work will get their jobs back, others will not. Youth unemployment in the State of Palestine pre-outbreak was 45 percent, and the fear of this figure rising exponentially is real.
Massive gaps have been faced in collecting credible real-time data pertaining to the effects of COVID-19 on businesses, workers, and the economy in general. The Accelerator Lab will explore behavioural insights of workers to fill some of the information and perception gaps. This will support the drafting of response plans in coordination with ILO and the Ministry of Labour.
UNDP will also be launching a crowdfunding campaign that supports small businesses to survive the crisis. The campaign will aim to support 33 small businesses by providing them with direct cash support for two months to subsidize their rent, utility bills, and salaries for their workers. Matching grants will be sought from local private sector through coordination with the Chambers of Commerce. The campaign will be scaled up to reach more SMEs and more sizable survival grants.
Faced with this unforeseen pandemic, the overall challenge we are all facing is to bring it all together: not enough data around the cases, the readiness of the health system to accommodate the recent surge, the socio-economic impact of the lockdown, and making strict plans seems like a futile exercise as the effects of the outbreak globally are still shaping up.