By Ihab Rimawi
Before March 5, no one would think that vibrant Angel Hotel in the southern West Bank city of Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus Christ, would become the main quarantine in the occupied West Bank for patients of the novel COVID-19 pandemic. But this became a fact when about seven guests and staff tested positive for the virus on that day.
From that moment, Antwan Saqqa and three of his friends, who work at the hotel, decided to volunteer to help the patients and the other people quarantined at the hotel.
Saqqa, the three volunteers and five of the hotel staff, all tested negative for COVID-19. Nevertheless, he and three of this friends decided to remain at the hotel to help their colleagues stuck there, both the infected and the not-infected. They are currently staying in the ground floor of the hotel, while the quarantined staff and guests, who also tested negative, are staying in the second floor. Those who tested positive for the virus are quarantined in the third floor.
Ever since the start of the crisis, the volunteers in the ground floor have divided themselves into two groups, with the first group providing quarantined guests and patients with breakfast in the morning and vitamins to improve immunity. Two sterilized wagons are used for delivery of food, vitamins and other supplies, and are placed outside the hotel every time after their use for sterilization and ventilation.
The second group performs the same functions as the first group after midday every day, but is usually accompanied by a doctor who conducts regular checks for the patients and the other people under quarantine, as well as talks to them about their health conditions.
Guests in the ground floor received protective suits and N95 type masks on the third day of the crisis to ensure their safety and protection against infection, and continued with the same precautions until today according to the directions of the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Saqqa says when each group begins its mission of delivering the food and supplies every day, they wear the protective suits and masks, and when they arrive at each of the rooms of the patients and those quarantined, they leave the items at the door of the room. Then, he continues, they move four meters away and call the occupant of the room by phone to take the food and the other supplies, before closing the door of the room.
"What most guests need in the hotel at the moment is the psychological support which the doctors are focusing on at this stage. This makes them [the patients] feel they are one family, and that their exit from this ordeal will be the result of patience and resilience," Saqqa adds.
The death of the mother of one of the people quarantined was the most difficult situation for all those quarantined in the hotel. Because his exit from the hotel to bid farewell to his mother would pose the risk of infection for his family and relatives, he had to find a safe way to bid his mother farewell. Hence, the volunteers reached out to the various authorities who decided that the body of the deceased mother would be brought to the entrance of the hotel for her son to bid her farewell, but only after he wore a protective suit.
Saqqa continues, "The young man was fully responsible and wise, and he was aware that his exit would pose a danger to his family. He didn't want to make a mess but only asked to take a last look of his deceased mother. We fought to achieve his demand."
Saqqa hopes their ordeal will not take so long. He conducted a preliminary examination on March 5 and will perform other tests at the end of the current week. If the result appears negative, he will return to his home and be quarantined there for a period of two weeks. The same applies to all those at the hotel, both the infected and non-infected alike.
Earlier today, the government's spokesperson announced that the number COVID-19 patients in the West Bank reached 38, with 37 of them in Bethlehem and only one in Tulkarm.