Arab Israelis fear they won’t be able to cope with coronavirus alone

Nazareth Hospital opens department for receiving infected patients

General view picture shows the Arab-Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm in the foreground and Wadi Ara in the background (photo credit: REUTERS)
General view picture shows the Arab-Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm in the foreground and Wadi Ara in the background
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At least 80 Arab-Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the past few weeks, but the number is expected to rise now that mobile testing clinics have begun operating in several Arab communities.
Meanwhile, dozens of emergency relief committees have begun operating in several Arab cities and villages, providing food and various services, including medical and psychological aid, to Arab citizens. Some of the committees are operated by the Islamic Movement in Israel and by political parties.
However, some committee heads warned that the Arab sector would not be able to cope with a major outbreak of the disease.
“The relief activities and medical aid we are providing is not enough,” said Sheikh Mohammed Aref Watad, head of Qadisiya Relief Society. “The Arab community is not prepared to deal with the coronavirus crisis and the unprecedented state of emergency, despite all the humanitarian projects.”
Watad and other relief workers said that since the beginning of the crisis they have been flooded with hundreds of requests from Arab families for financial and humanitarian aid.
Fayez Abu Mokh, a volunteer with a relief committee in the city of Baka al-Gharbiya, warned of a “catastrophe” in the Arab sector, if and when a large number of people are diagnosed with the disease.
“Many people feel that the Israeli authorities are not doing enough to address the problem in the Arab sector,” Abu Mokh said. “We want to see more tests in the Arab community. People are panicking and are afraid that they won’t receive medical treatment once the disease spreads. We also want to see the leaders of the Arab citizens play a bigger role in preventing the spread of the disease.”
The highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Arab sector was registered in the Lower Galilee city of Tamra, where 13 residents tested positive for coronavirus, they said. Tamra has a population of nearly 35,000 people.
Tamra Mayor Suhail Diab said, however, that he was aware of only nine confirmed cases in his city. Most of the residents who tested positive for the virus recently returned from a trip to Turkey, while another young woman was diagnosed with the disease after visiting Britain, Diad said. In addition, a nurse from Tamra has also tested positive for the virus.
In Nazareth, seven residents have tested positive for the disease. Another six residents of Taiba, in the Triangle area, contracted the virus, as well as another five in Umm el-Fahm.
The tests showed that the disease has also spread to the Bedouin city of Rahat, where six residents tested positive for coronavirus.
The mobile clinics have so far enabled hundreds of Arab-Israelis to be tested, and the number of infected residents is expected to increase when the results come out.
“I understand the fears of many Arab citizens, but the situation in the Arab sector so far seems to be under control,” said Haitham Shehadeh, a pediatrician from Haifa. “Today there’s more awareness of the dangers of the disease, and most people are abiding by the Ministry of Health regulations to curb the spread of coronavirus.”
Thousands of Arab-Israelis from the Galilee, Triangle area and the Negev have been in self-imposed isolation and quarantine since the outbreak of the disease in early March.
The mobile clinics are expected to conduct more tests in the coming week in Rahat, Taiba, Kafr Kassem, Nazareth and other Arab villages and cities, according to a special medical committee set up by the Joint List to follow up on the developments surrounding the outbreak of the virus in the Arab sector.
MK Heba Yazbak of the Joint List expressed satisfaction that the test clinics were finally operating in the Arab sector after recurring appeals from the leaders of the Arab-Israelis.
“It’s time for the Arab citizens to receive equal medical services,” she said.
EMMS NAZARETH HOSPITAL, also known as English Hospital, announced on Wednesday it has opened the first section in the area for receiving coronavirus patients. The new section, called “Victory Department,” has 27 beds, including seven for intensive care treatment of critical cases requiring artificial respiration.
The new section, which obtained the approval of the Health Ministry, is equipped with the best medical and technological equipment used to prevent the spread of the virus, the hospital said in a statement. It also provides wireless medical equipment that enables medical staff to examine patients remotely, in accordance with the guidelines published by the ministry.
Dr. Fahed Hakim, medical director of the hospital, said that Nazareth  Hospital has been working day and night in the past three weeks to prepare the new section. All medical, administrative, engineering, logistical and architectural teams worked hard around the clock to prepare the section, Hakim said. The new section, he said, is one of three departments that will be constructed in the coming days for coronavirus patients in order to increase the number of beds to 60.
Prof. Bishara Bisharat, chair of the Society for Health Promotion in the Arab Community in the Israel Medical Association, said Arab-Israelis were “beautifully complying with and accepting” the ministry’s instructions regarding coronavirus.
“The number of people infected with the virus remains low in the Arab sector, and that’s partially a result of the positive attitude of our people in dealing with the disease,” Bisharat said.
He said that three residents of Nazareth have been diagnosed with the disease, while two others who are not residents of the city have been hospitalized at Nazareth Hospital.
“We’re talking about three cases among a population of 80,000. This is a small percentage. The three patients are in light condition, and they did not even require hospitalization.”
Bisharat said the tests that are currently being conducted by mobile clinics in the Arab sector will show in the coming days whether the number of infected cases is much higher.
“Within the next week, we will know to what extent the virus has spread in the Arab community,” he added.