Israel ramps up testing in Arab communities
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Israel ramps up testing in Arab communities

Mobile coronavirus testing centers to open in Ashdod, Rahat; another facility reportedly to be opened in East Jerusalem

A paramedic of Israel's Magen David Adom national emergency medical service handles a swab to test for coronavirus at a drive-thru testing site in the northern Israeli city of Tamra on March 31, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
A paramedic of Israel's Magen David Adom national emergency medical service handles a swab to test for coronavirus at a drive-thru testing site in the northern Israeli city of Tamra on March 31, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Two mobile coronavirus testing clinics were set to open Wednesday in the coastal city of Ashdod and in the Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev Desert, the Magen David Adom (MDA) ambulance service said.

Additionally, Hebrew-language media reported that MDA would open a mobile clinic Wednesday in East Jerusalem, where people will be tested for the first time.

The new drive-thru facilities join other mobile test sites in Bnei Brak and Modiin, as well as permanent facilities in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba.

MDA said that both new mobile clinics will have two lanes enabling hundreds to come and get tested. Those seeking tests must speak with MDA on its 101 hotline and receive approval.

Rahat, a Bedouin city of 69,000 in the northern Negev, has seen only four confirmed cases, according to Health Ministry data, likely due to low testing rates in Arab communities.

Illustrative: Bedouin women walk past the Bedouin city of Rahat in southern Israel on February 16, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

In 2013, the city was the epicenter of a polio outbreak, leading to a major immunization campaign.

Ashdod, home to a large ultra-Orthodox community, is the country’s sixth largest city, but has seen fewer than 100 confirmed cases.

The Rahat mobile clinic had previously been in the Arab village of Arara and in Tamra in the Galilee, as Israel seeks to ramp up testing in the Arab community.

Clalit, Israel’s largest HMO, said Wednesday it was opening testing facilities in the Arab cities of Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm and Tamra, as well as in East Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighborhood.

Ehud Davidson, the CEO of Clalit, said the new facilities were meant to make testing more accessible in Arab communities.

Leumit, another HMO, also said it was opening facilities to take samples for testing in Nazareth and Jerusalem’s Beit Safafa neighborhood.

On Sunday, Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi said that his Arab-majority party had appealed to Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov and MDA head Eli Bin about erecting a testing center in the Arab community.

Tibi and other members of the Joint List have contended that medical authorities have not tested enough Arab Israelis for the virus, but have also said some members of the Arab community hesitate to contact MDA when experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19.

“It isn’t shameful to be tested or be sick,” Tibi said on Sunday in a recorded message alongside Bin, stating that Arabs were not more immune to the virus than anyone else in Israel.

Joint MK Ahmad Tibi walking alongside Magen David Adom emergency and rescue service head Eli Bin. (Credit: The Office of MK Ahmad Tibi)

MDA deputy spokesman Nadav Matzner, however, pushed back against criticism that heath authorities have not done enough tests on Arabs, noting that anyone who meets the criteria gets tested.

He also noted that Arabs have come to drive-thru clinics to test for the virus in Haifa and other areas in Israel.

The Health Ministry said, as of Wednesday morning, that 5,591 people in Israel have tested positive for COVID-19, including 226 who have recovered and 21 who died.

On Sunday, Bin, the Magen David Adom head, also said that the emergency service would open an Arabic-language hotline.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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