Israel premier calls for vaccination push in Arab communities

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Wednesday for new efforts to promote coronavirus vaccination within Arab communities, which are now the leading hotspots of Covid transmission.

Before leaving New York where he addressed the UN General Assembly, partly on Israel's pandemic response, Bennett said "the 40 'reddest' communities in Israel are from the Arab sector", referring to transmission rates.

Bennett has faced criticism from some health experts over his refusal to reimpose lockdown restrictions despite persistently highly daily case counts.

But Bennett said his government's policy was to keep Israel "as open as possible alongside focused work on the non-vaccinated and the centres of morbidity".

"What will help is... going to the Arab sector, and persuading them," he told reporters.

Israel's Arab citizens, Palestinians who remained on their land after Israel's founding in 1948, make up roughly 20 percent of the country's 9.3 million population.

Zahi Said, a spokesman for the health ministry, told AFP that 40 percent of all new infections in Israel -- and a similar rate of hospitalisations and deaths -- were within the Arab community.

Said attributed the high rates to a "lack of vaccination and non-compliance with health ministry instructions, such as distancing and wearing masks."

He said the ministry was promoting vaccine awareness in Arab cities and towns, but that vaccine resistance has persisted.

Israel was in December among the first countries to launch a national vaccination campaign that brought infections down to a trickle and allowed the lifting in June of nearly all pandemic restrictions.

The emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant caused infections to surge, but Bennett's government has opted to rollout a third, or booster, jab of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine instead of a new lockdown.

Israeli data shows that those who have received a third shot are less likely to become seriously ill with Covid than those who have received the required two shots.