The coronavirus pandemic has so far claimed approximately 2.3 million lives across the world. In Israel last week the number of deaths from the disease passed the 5,000 mark, with most of the victims (87%) aged 65 and older.

The appearance of the virus in Israel was accompanied by vigorous debate in the media and there were those who claimed that it was “a hyped-up flu.” At the same time there were professionals at the Ministry of Health who maintained that it was a dangerous and lethal disease. An evaluation of the data for mortality in Israel nearly a year since the outbreak of the pandemic provides an answer, albeit a partial one, to this puzzle. The mortality data for 2020 indicate that 48.6 thousand people in Israel died during this year. The number of deaths in 2020 is high, as compared to the four preceding years. However, since the population of the country increased over the course of the year, the mortality rate (the number of deaths in relation to the size of the population) must also be taken into account. In 2020, the mortality rate was 5,300 people for every million residents, as compared to about 5,100 deaths on average for the years 2016-2019 (during which the rate ranged from 5,010 to 5,150). In other words, in 2020, the excess mortality (the number of deaths from all causes as compared to what one would expect to see under ‘normal’ conditions) was about 1,700 people. Most of the excess mortality is found among older people.

An examination of the number of deaths from the coronavirus (as of February 2, 2021) according to location, indicates that the largest number, 698, was recorded in Jerusalem. The next cities, in descending order, are Tel Aviv (252), Haifa (200), and Bnei Brak (185). Thus it emerges that the largest number of deaths was recorded in the three biggest cities in Israel and in Bnei Brak. Bnei Brak is the ninth largest city in Israel, yet it is ranked fourth regarding the number of deaths from the coronavirus. However, since population size in each town or city is different, and specifically the number of people aged 65 and older, the rate of deaths must be examined – i.e. the number of deaths in relation to the number of people residing in each place who are 65 or older.

A close look at the rate of deaths reveals a completely different picture. The areas where the highest death rates in Israel were recorded are: Ein Mahil (33 deaths for every 1,000 people aged 65 and older); Modi’in Ilit (24); Yarka (23); Umm Al-Fahm (18) and Tamra (17). The next ten areas on the list, in descending order, are also Arab cities or towns, except for the city of Bnei Brak. It appears that the locations where the highest number of deaths was recorded are mainly Arab, as well as the two largest Ultra-Orthodox cities in Israel – Bnei Brak and Modi’in Ilit. In Jerusalem, eight people died for every thousand people over the age of 65.

Please keep safe.

Translated by Gilah Kahn-Hoffmann