Spike in Coronavirus Cases in West Bank and North Linked to Negev Bedouin Outbreak

Report identified significant increase in cases in Wadi Ara, an Arab region of northern Israel, and among Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank

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A coronavirus testing station in the Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev, April 1, 2020.
A coronavirus testing station in the Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev, April 1, 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A coronavirus outbreak among Bedouin in the Negev also sparked outbreaks in both the West Bank and parts of northern Israel, a report by the Health Ministry’s coronavirus information center said.

The report, released on Monday, said that 28 new cases were diagnosed over the weekend in Wadi Ara, an Arab region of northern Israel. This is a rise of 47 percent. Moreover, the rate of tests coming back positive in that area has risen from 3.5 to seven percent.

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In the West Bank, the increase occurred in the South Hebron Hills region.

The report noted that even with the recent outbreak, Wadi Ara has fewer cases per capita than the national average. It also said contact tracers have traced most of the new infections to other members of the same household or social events.

The rise in cases among the Negev Bedouin, primarily in the towns of Arara and Rahat, began in the last week of May. That prompted an increase in testing, and over the last two weeks, six percent of tests conducted there have been positive.

Rahat has had 130 new cases diagnosed over the last three weeks, more than the much larger nearby city of Be’er Sheva, which had 122.

The report recommended a further increase in testing, greater enforcement of coronavirus restrictions and better explanation of the dangers in both the Negev and Wadi Ara. It also recommended increased aid to Arara, where movement restrictions have been reinstated in three neighborhoods, as well as the Negev Bedouin towns of Hura, Lakiya, Kseifa and Segev Shalom.

The outbreak in Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills stemmed from the fact that these communities have both family and trade ties with the Negev Bedouin, the report said. Around 170 new cases have been diagnosed in those communities over the past few days.

Over the weekend, Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh imposed a five-day lockdown on the Hebron area and a 48-hour lockdown in Nablus, in the northern West Bank. He also urged Israeli Arabs not to visit the West Bank for the next two weeks.

“Anyone who works in the Hebron area, including the surrounding communities, sees lots of mingling between Palestinians and [Israeli] Arab residents of the Negev,” a medical staffer in Hebron told Haaretz. “Moreover, many families are bound by marriage ties and commercial activity.”

He cited one case that the Palestinian Health Ministry knows about in which a coronavirus patient from Hura married a woman from the Palestinian town of Dahariya. “He came to the area and met with at least 10 people, and then they mingled with other people.”

Shtayyeh’s statement urging Israeli Arabs not to visit upset the Israeli Arab community, which demanded explanations from his office. Palestinian officials said he wasn’t trying to blame Israeli Arabs, but was concerned about his community’s welfare.

Hebron and Nablus, where the two recent West Bank outbreaks occurred, are both popular places for Israeli Arabs to visit, one senior Palestinian official explained. Moreover, contact tracing has confirmed that some of the new patients had been in contact with Israeli Arabs.

But Dr. Naim Abu Freha, chairman of the Arab Doctors Association of the Negev, said the information connecting the West Bank outbreak to Israeli Arabs is still partial, and thorough contact tracing is needed to confirm this conclusion.

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