Israel’s newest coronavirus fear: A spike in cases within the Arab sector

Arab MKs and officials are urging more testing in the sector, as hundreds are feared to be infected without knowing it.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Ministry of Health fears that an outbreak of coronavirus has started to hit Arab towns in the western Galilee which until now have been relatively free of the disease, media reported on Wednesday.

In what the ministry is calling “a very high” morbidity level, 31 people have come down with the disease in the region in the last day. The jump was especially worrying in Deir al-Asad, a town of some 13,000 residents outside of Carmiel, where the number rocketed from nine in the beginning of the week to 23.

The Ministry of Health immediately called for all residents in the area to self-isolate after its epidemiological investigation showed that hundreds had potentially come into contact with those who have now proven to be ill.

Deputy regional council head Nimar Hussein told Israel Hayom that outsiders brought the virus to the town.

“The source of infection is probably the kashruth supervisor in a local slaughterhouse who was found to be sick, as well as workers from the Palestinian Authority who worked while being sick and came into contact with some of the residents and employees,” he said.

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The Home Front Command has begun transferring the confirmed cases to quarantine hotels. Magen David Adom has also agreed to Knesset Health Committee head MK Ahmad Tibi’s request to open a drive-thru testing site in Deir al-Asad, reported Israel Hayom.

There are a few other such mobile testing centers in Arab areas, and two student hostels in Haifa and Acre have been opened to care for Arab Israelis. However, according to Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, there has been too little testing in Arab villages in both the Galilee and the Negev.

Until Wednesday, only some 510 Arab Israelis have tested positive for corona, but Adalah and Arab MKs fear that the true numbers are really not known. The lack of testing is one cause, but another seems to be the inability to convey the true seriousness of the pandemic to Arab Israeli citizens.

According to a Sunday Haaretz report, many people in Jisr al-Zarqa, a poor town south of Haifa, are disobeying the Health Ministry directives, even though it has one of the highest rates of infection among purely Arab localities – two for every thousand residents. Shoppers were not maintaining social distancing rules, a café was open in the town square, and many were walking around without masks.

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Local council head Murad Amash told the daily, ““Since not everyone observes the regulations, a strict lockdown must be imposed and enforced here. I don’t think people realize that this year Ramadan will be different, without [communal] worship and without family gatherings,” he said.

The month-long fasting period of Ramadan begins this year on April 23. All mosques are closed and Arab spiritual leaders are urging the faithful to pray at home.