Spared So Far, Israel’s Arab Community Fears Ramadan Could Spark Coronavirus Outbreak

Israel’s Arab community has until now experienced a surprisingly low rate of coronavirus infection, but there is mounting concern that the outbreak could gain strength during Ramadan, showing the true gaps in public health between Israel’s communities.

As of Sunday evening, only 193 of around 8,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel could be found in Arab communities, according to Health Ministry figures. Not one Arab community appears among the first 60 on the Ministry’s list.

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Experts say the gap can be partially 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 Haaretz previously reported. As of Sunday, 6,479 people in Arab communities were tested in contrast to more than 80,000 in Jewish communities.

But the gap in testing can’t explain the fact that among the 46 fatalities, there are apparently no Arabs. Health maintenance organizations and local clinics have also not reported any sharp rise in the spread of the virus in Arab society.

Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi from the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, after undergoing a coronavirus test in Tira, central Israel, April 2020.Eyal Toueg

“In my opinion we don’t know enough and it’s possible that there is more illness than we are aware of,” says Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. “It’s also possible that there is underreporting, that the threshold at which they call Magen David Adom [rescue services] is higher,” he adds. 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.

Nevertheless, the Arab community seems to have been less affected by two accelerators of the disease. The first circles of infection in Israel was mainly composed of people who returned from abroad carrying the virus, and then of people who attended celebrations around the Jewish holiday of Purim.