65 people diagnosed with COVID after attending mass Bedouin wedding

Authorities trying to determine if guests arrived at party in unregistered village near Rahat knowing they had virus

The Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel, on April 8, 2019. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
The Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel, on April 8, 2019. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A mass wedding in an unregistered Bedouin village near the southern town of Rahat has reportedly become a COVID-19 super-spreader event, with at least 65 of the guests so far diagnosed and more expected to have been infected.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, health authorities estimate that some 100 people have been infected in total and are trying to determine if any guests arrived at the Friday event despite knowing they had the virus.

Health officials have blamed weddings as one of the main vectors for the spread of coronavirus in Arab Israeli communities.

The second wave among Israeli Arabs largely coincided with the late summer wedding season; at the wave’s peak, around 30% of Israel’s active cases were in the Arab community, which makes up around 20% of the total population.

With many restrictions on weddings lifted after the most recent lockdown, the current cap for weddings at event venues and hotel dining rooms is 50% capacity and no more than 300 people.

With the vast majority of Israelis age 16 and up already vaccinated, immunization rates in predominantly Arab locales are relatively low, particularly in unregistered Bedouin villages.

A healthcare worker prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in the Negev’s main Bedouin town of Rahat, on February 17, 2021. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Only about 34% of Bedouins in the south above the age of 16 have been vaccinated or recovered from the virus, while around 90% of the rest of the adult population has, according to the Health Ministry.

The rate of infection has fallen steeply in recent months amid Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign. On Sunday, there were 5,217 active cases, including 344 patients in serious condition.

The positive infection rate for testing on Saturday was 1.1%.

There were 124 new cases diagnosed on Saturday, although testing is usually lower on weekends. Saturday was also the close of the Passover holiday.

There have been 834,247 cases since the start of the pandemic, and 6,243 deaths.

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