Lockdown, ban on weddings reduced coronavirus infections in Arab sector

The opening of testing stations in the Arab communities, including east Jerusalem, was another reason behind the drop in the number of coronavirus cases in the Arab sector.

Wadi al-Joz in east Jerusalem (photo credit: V_KATSON/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Wadi al-Joz in east Jerusalem
The current lockdown has led to a significant decrease in the number of coronavirus cases among Arab Israelis, Ayam Saif, Coronavirus Project Coordinator for Israel’s Arab Sector, said on Tuesday.
Saif expressed fear, however, that lifting the lockdown and the return of weddings and other public gatherings could cause a resurgence in the number of infections, unless Arab Israelis kept to the rules.
“The government decision to impose a lockdown had a positive effect on the Arab sector, notably the ban on weddings,” he said.  “We had a lot of weddings before the lockdown. The weddings were the major reason for the increase in the morbidity rate in the Arab sector. Now there are almost no weddings in Arab towns and villages.”
The opening of testing stations in Arab communities, including east Jerusalem, was another reason behind the drop in the number of cases in the Arab sector, Saif said.
“We did our best to spread drive-in testing stations in a variety of towns in the Arab sector and we worked very hard to encourage people to do the tests,” he said.
“In east Jerusalem, we opened two permanent stations, one in Sheikh Jarrah and another in Jebl Mukaber. We managed to increase the number of tests in the city.
“Today, we are talking about 200 new cases in the Arab sector out of more than 3,000 new cases in the whole country, which is about 10.7% of the total morbidity. Last month, by comparison, the number of new cases in the Arab sector reached its peak with about 990 people who were diagnosed. We were over 30% of the new cases of infection in Israel.”
According to Saif, the third reason for the decrease in the Arab sector is improved cooperation between the Ministry of Health and community heads, especially mayors and religious leaders.
“The mayors and religious leaders played a significant role,” he added. “They shut down the mosques, and this was a very important step. Yesterday, we had a very interesting and powerful meeting with Muslim leaders from the Arab community. Our major goal is to cooperate with them and continue this cooperation because these leaders have a very positive effect on the people.
We have more than 50 working plans with the Arab municipalities. Our major target is to convert them from red to green, and we have succeeded in this task. The result is that only two Arab towns are today classified as ‘red.’ A month ago, we had more than 30 Arab towns that were classified as red areas. Today, as I mentioned, we have only two Arab towns that are still ‘red’ out of 29 red towns in Israel. We are talking about a significant decrease. I hope this trend will continue so as to improve the situation in the Arab society.”
He acknowledged that there was a decrease in the number of tests, but said that this applied not only to the Arab sector, but across the entire country.
“If we check the tests per 10,000, we are talking about 18 tests [in the Arab sector] per 10,000. We have six percent of these tests that are positive. In the last few days we see a decrease in the positive results of the tests in Arab society. A month ago, we were over 16% of the positive results out of these tests. These are encouraging results.”
On the other hand, Saif pointed out, there has been a significant increase in deaths in the Arab community. During the first wave of the virus outbreak in the Arab community, he said, there were only five deaths. “Today, we have about 328 deaths in the Arab sector, which is about 16% of the total deaths in the country.”
He said he was concerned that when the lockdown is lifted, Arab Israelis would think that it’s fine to hold weddings and public gatherings as if the crisis had ended.
“That will be dangerous because all the things we succeeded in doing in the past two months will be eliminated, especially if we go back to the weddings and other gatherings,” he cautioned. “One month ago, there were about 10,700 active coronavirus cases in the Arab sector. Currently, we are talking about 5,500 active cases out of almost 53,000 active cases in Israel.”
Samir Mahameed, the mayor of Umm el-Fahm, told The Jerusalem Post that he too was worried that the lifting of the lockdown would see an increase in the number of weddings and other public gatherings.
The lockdown, Mahameed said, did help to a certain extent in curbing the spread of coronavirus in the Arab sector. “There were no weddings during the lockdown,” he noted. But we are now worried that after the lockdown is lifted, there will be an increase in the number of weddings because many people had postponed their weddings until the end of the restrictions.”
The mayor said that his municipality was now working to increase residents’ awareness concerning the dangers of the pandemic. “We are also in contact with the police and other bodies responsible for enforcing the law and health regulations,” he added. “We want them to take action against those who don’t listen to us. Weddings should be held only in accordance with the regulations. We won’t allow any violations.”
Mahameed said that Umm el-Fahm was now classified as green after it had been red in recent weeks.
“We hired people to enforce the restrictions in our city,” he said. “The made sure that people adhered to the restrictions. That’s how we managed to reduce the number of infections. Today, we have 111 active cases in Umm el-Fahm – three of them in critical condition in hospital and another five in moderate condition. We had 2,500 infections a few weeks ago. A month ago, we had about 900 active cases. Sadly, Umm el-Fahm has lost 15 of its residents to the virus in the past 45 days. People are now more aware of the dangers of this disease.”