The mayor of the largest Bedouin city in Israel said on Thursday that many residents are ashamed of being infected with coronavirus and as a result avoid getting tested.
The government on Wednesday has decided to designate three Arab communities, including Rahat, as "restricted coronavirus areas," which will be subject to several restrictions regarding travel and gathering.
Speaking in an interview with Ynet, Rahat Mayor Faiz Abu Sahiben, who is himself in quarantine after coming in contact with a confirmed patient, said he is prepared to take any steps to ensure the health of his community.
"The coronavirus is still perceived as something to be ashamed of and people loath to admit they have been exposed," the mayor said, "I was hoping to set an example and made it known that I have gone into quarantine."
Health officials say that starting Friday they will impose a closure on two neighborhoods in the city that have been identified as COVID-19 hotspots.
The city, which is the second largest in the Negev, has seen a 15.3% rise in cases in the past three days, bringing the total number of coronavirus patients to 198.
Abu Sahiben said he was moving 80 people into four buildings in the neighborhoods that will be under lockdown in order to isolate them from the rest of the population.
"We have offered people to evacuate to a hotel outside Rahat but most prefer to stay in town," he said, adding that lockdown would have to be enforced by the police.
One member of the Rahat city council said the residents are frustrated. "We must isolate those who have been infected by the virus and not punish the entire population because some do not adhere to health guidelines," Yousuf al Ramli said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday warned that if the Israeli public continues to disregard health orders, the government would have to take "firm measures" to stop the spread of coronavirus.
"There is no other way but for the public to change its behavior. If not, then we will have to take firm measures," Netanyahu said.
The rise in confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel continued with the total number of Israelis infected by the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, crossing the 4,000 mark.