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Bennett instructs health funds to help get Arab Israelis vaccinated

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Bennett instructs health funds to help get Arab Israelis vaccinated

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed Israel’s four health funds on Wednesday to step up efforts to get more Arab citizens of Israel vaccinated, as around 40% of all serious COVID-19 cases in the country are among the Arab population.

The prime minister also said that he is unlikely to roll out any new restrictions, even if health professionals believe they are necessary.

Early Newspaper

Bennett spoke to the heads of Maccabi, Meuhedet, Clalit and Leumit Health Services on Wednesday morning, together with Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash,  coronavirus commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka and the commander of the Home Front Command Major General Ori Gordin. He was briefed on the situation from their perspective and told to work toward increasing the volume of people getting vaccinated each day.

There has been a decline in the number of inoculations in Israel, perhaps because of the Sukkot holiday.

 Bennett instructs health funds to help get Arab Israelis vaccinated. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO) Bennett instructs health funds to help get Arab Israelis vaccinated. (credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

But vaccination is specifically low among the Arab population across the country, which has led to a spike in morbidity among Arab Israelis. According to a report shared by N12, the rate of positive cases in the Arab population is 2.5 times that of the general society.

As Bennett boarded the plane in New York to return to Israel, he told journalists that the 40 localities with the highest rate of morbidity are in Arab society and that unvaccinated patients comprise more than 90% of serious cases in Israel’s hospitals.

“Despite the pressures, we will at this stage refrain from imposing restrictions on the entire population,” Bennett said. “Cancelling a Shlomo Artzi concert in Rishon Lezion or a wedding in Modi’in will not help the residents of Tayibe or Umm al-Fahm.”

The No. 1 reason why Arabs are not getting vaccinated is that they are afraid of vaccine side effects, the report said.

Bennett had been briefed about the situation in the Arab community before his travels to the US for the United Nations General Assembly, and reportedly together with the coronavirus commissioner for the Arab community Ayman Saif and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked formulated a plan to work with Muslim faith leaders to reach these people and get them their first, second or third shots.

The plan included establishing vaccine complexes in every red Arab city (there are about 60 of them) and appointing a state-funded coronavirus commissioner for each of these cities who will help to set vaccination targets for them. The commissioner will also work with primary care physicians to encourage them to talk to their patients about getting vaccinated.

Bennett touted Israel’s coronavirus efforts at his speech in the United Nations, despite health professionals saying a few days prior that the country’s policy needed to be altered.

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet on Sunday for the first time in almost a month. The Health Ministry is weighing asking for restrictions to be placed on gatherings to help stop the spread of the virus.

Children return to school on Thursday, which is expected to lead to a spike in cases. 

Bennett stressed in his discussion with the health fund heads that the government’s policy is to keep the country open and the economy as functional as possible, while increasing immunization in all parts of society, mass testing, and enforcing the Green Pass outline.

He then reiterated the policy as he boarded the airplane: “I very much respect the Health Ministry experts and cherish their professional work. However, imposing more and more sweeping restrictions on all citizens of the State of Israel is not the policy of the government.”

He said the meaning of “sweeping actions” is the immediate loss of thousands of jobs for the citizens of the State of Israel.

Bennett came under fire for comments made during his UN speech and in a briefing with Israelis reporters while in New York in which he said that “while doctors are an important input, they cannot be the ones running the national initiative. The only person who has a good vantage point of all considerations is the national leader of any given country.”

There were 5,159 people diagnosed with the virus over the holiday, the Health Ministry reported on Wednesday night. Some 660 people were in serious condition, including 227 who were intubated. There were another 2,386 new cases on Tuesday, with 3.42% of tests returning positive. 

The death rate stood at 7,692.

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Bennett instructs health funds to help get Arab Israelis vaccinated