There is mounting concern that the COVID-19 outbreak among the Palestinian community in territories occupied since 1948 could gain strength during Ramadan. Photo credit: Anadolu News Agency
Some 193 of around 8,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Palestinian territories occupied since 1948 (present-day Israel) could be found in Palestinian communities, according to Health Ministry figures.
Though Israel’s Arab community has until now experienced a surprisingly low rate of coronavirus infection, there is mounting concern that the outbreak could gain strength during Ramadan.
Haaretz daily quoted experts as stating that the gap can be explained by a relatively small number of tests conducted in Arab communities, as well as a lack of epidemiological investigation to locate those who had been in contact with COVID-19 patients.
As of Sunday, only 6,479 people in Arab communities were tested in contrast to more than 80,000 in Jewish communities.
“In my opinion we don’t know enough and it’s possible that there is more illness than we are aware of,” Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot told Haaretz. “It’s also possible that there is underreporting”.
According to Segal, there may have been Arab Israelis who died of the coronavirus but went undiagnosed and a different cause of death was listed.
Dr. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians warns that the high number of Arab health care workers puts the community at the center of the outbreak. “If these workers are at high risk, we’ll start seeing a much higher rate of infection. It’s important to follow what’s happening there,” said Levine.
Levine warned however that the Health Ministry does not know enough about what is happening in Arab communities.
Dr. Khaled Awawda, a member of the national committee on health in the Arab community, said: “It’s hard to reach conclusions at this point. The number of confirmed patients is relatively low, [but] so is the number of tests”.
Members of the health committee are now concerned about what might happen during the month of Ramadan, which begins at the end of April. People are less likely to adhere to social distancing rules during the holiday, which will increase the risk of infection.
“At the moment, there are many theories, but it must be said that we don’t know entirely what is happening,” said Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, head of the school of public health at Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva. The government responded late in its efforts to spread information, in testing and improving access to services in the Arab community, he said.
If an outbreak occurs among Israeli Arabs, the situation will reflect the status of the system in general and gaps in public health in Israel, Davidovitch, said, adding: “It won’t last forever. It’s not logical for there not to be an outbreak in Arab community.”