Israeli Arab Death Rate From COVID-19 Was Three Times Higher Than General Population, Study Finds

The Health Ministry study also found that the rate of infection in the ultra-Orthodox community was the highest, though fewer Haredim succumbed to the virus

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A COVID-19 testing center in the Arab town of Taibeh.
A COVID-19 testing center in the Arab town of Taibeh.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The death rate from the coronavirus among Israel's Arab population since the outbreak of the pandemic has been three times higher than the Israeli population as a whole, a Health Ministry study published Thursday reported. Israeli Arabs have also become seriously ill and have been hospitalized in relatively greater numbers.

Although the Arab community's death rate was three times higher, the disparity in infection rates has been far smaller. Nine percent of the Arab community has been infected with the virus, compared to 6.5 percent among the general population.

According to the Health Ministry study – an annual survey that examines health-care inequality in Israel – the rate of hospitalization and serious illness from the coronavirus was the highest in the Arab community. About 8 percent of Arab coronavirus patients were hospitalized, compared with 5 percent of the general population, 4.5 percent in the religious-Zionist community and 4.3 percent among ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

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The percentage of Arabs who became seriously ill with COVID-19 was 4.3, compared with 2.4 in the general population, 2 percent in the religious-Zionist community and 1.8 percent among the ultra-Orthodox. According to the study, 1.35 percent of Arab patients died of the virus, compared with 0.86 percent in the general population, 0.8 percent among the religious-Zionist community and 0.75 percent among the ultra-Orthodox.

Among the explanations for the higher rate of infection among Arabs are later diagnosis, overloaded hospitals and a lower quality of medical care in parts of northern Israel, where the majority of virus outbreaks in the Arab community occurred. In addition, the ultra-Orthodox population is younger on average than other segments of Israeli society, which might explain the lower ultra-Orthodox rate of serious cases.

The coronavirus epidemic highlighted inequalities in the health of Israelis and the connection between socioeconomic status and the rate of infection. "The highest rates of illness were recorded among people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, among residents of central Israel and among the ultra-Orthodox," the study noted.

Similar disparities were found in data concerning other health metrics, including smoking, illness, life expectancy and preventative medical care. The gaps are explained by more limited access to medical care in areas far from the center of the country, by the link between income and the use of medical services and sometimes also a lack of trust in the health-care system.

According to the Health Ministry report, coronavirus tests were administered at a rate of 4.571 per 10,000 people in the general population and 515 of them tested positive on average. In the ultra-Orthodox community, the pace of testing was slightly higher, at 5,131 tests per 10,000 people, but the rate of confirmed cases was three times as large, with 1,853 testing positive.

Schools and yeshivas in large swathes of the Haredi community continued operating during the outbreaks and mass events were held even in the midst of the outbreaks, defying government directives that were laxly enforced. The rate of confirmed cases among the Arab population was the lowest in Israel, with only 462 testing positive per 10,000 people, but this figure is likely a product of the low rate of testing: 2,310 per 10,000 people.

Disparities were also evident in the average age of those who died of the virus. In the Arab community it was 73, compared with 78 in the Haredi community and 81 among the general population.

The report also demonstrated that the differing rates of infection from the virus depended on socioeconomic status. Among the bottom 30 percent, there were 2,979 tests per 10,000 people and 839 confirmed cases. For the top 30 percent, 4,688 tests were performed per 10,000 people and 324 were confirmed as infected with the coronavirus.

Even without regard to the virus, there are disparities in life expectancy between Jews and Arabs, with Jewish women living on average 3.2 years longer than Arab women, and Jewish men living on average 3.6 years longer than Arab men.

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