Following protests from Arab lawmakers and other public figures, a mobile clinic for testing for the highly contagious coronavirus began its rounds in the Arab town of Arara in the Northern Triangle region on Monday, March 30, to complement facilities in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba.
Hadash MK Jaber Asakla (Joint List), had said there was concern that the pandemic was being under-diagnosed among Arabs citizens in Israel since “fewer tests were being conducted” among this part of the population. Similarly, Joint List head, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), had been calling for the last two weeks for mobile testing in the Arab community.
As of Monday only 54 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among Arab citizens of Israel, excluding those diagnosed in occupied East Jerusalem and mixed Arab and Jewish cities. Public health experts in the Arab community warned that those numbers do not reflect the true rate of morbidity, but rather the lack of testing.
On Monday, 224 tests were conducted during the visit of the mobile testing station in Arara (population 24,904 in 2018; all census figures cited below are also from that year); at its stop in Tamra over 350 tests were performed on Tuesday, March 31. Thus far, Tamra (population 33,851) is the exclusively Arab city with the greatest number of confirmed cases in Israel – 13. On Wednesday, April 1, the mobile testing station moved to Rahat (population 69,032) in the south of the country, and from there headed back north to conduct tests in several communities in the Triangle region (which had a total population in excess of a quarter of a million residents in 2018) and the north, including Nazareth and Taibeh (with populations of 77,064 and 43,127, respectively), before returning to the Wadi Ara area.
Hadash MKs and other members of the Joint List contend that medical authorities have not tested enough Arab citizens for the virus, but have also admitted that some members of the Arab community hesitate to contact Magen David Adom when experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19. Haaretz reported on Sunday, March 29, that Health Ministry data provided to local Arab officials stated that only 38 residents of Arab communities had tested positive for the virus.
There is an especially acute problem with ventilators in certain areas of the periphery and Jerusalem, MK Asakla said on Monday. “In Nazareth, the situation is dire,” he said. “There is one children’s hospital with only one ventilator and in other hospitals only a handful of other [ventilators].” Nazareth hospitals have just 30 intensive care beds, half of them for ventilated patients, despite their having to serve a population of a quarter of a million residents. At least five more patients tested positive for COVID-19 in the city’s English Hospital on Monday.
Hadash MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), along with Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – demanded that the government transfer more ventilators to the Arab hospitals, warning “the health ministry’s neglect to test and prepare the Arab population may lead to a disaster.” The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, which serves about 500,000 residents Jews and Arabs, has only 30 ventilators; Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, which serves more than 200,000 residents and tens of thousands of Arab-Bedouin, has just 191 ventilators.