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Around half of Israelis hospitalized with coronavirus are ultra-Orthodox – TV

Some members of community that makes up just 10% of national population accused of driving infections through failure to adhere to social distancing restrictions

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray outside a closed yeshiva, in the town of Bnei Brak, on March 26, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men pray outside a closed yeshiva, in the town of Bnei Brak, on March 26, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox patients make up around half the coronavirus patients being treated in various major hospitals around the country, according to unofficial figures cited by the two leading Israeli news channels on Sunday evening.

Channels 12 and 13 both reported similar percentages of ultra-Orthodox patients, who come from a community that makes up just 10 percent of the total Israeli population.

According to the sources cited by the channels, ultra-Orthodox patients account for 60% of those hospitalized with the coronavirus at the ICU of Sheba Medical Center, the country’s largest hospital, located just outside Tel Aviv, and 50% in the hospital’s other units.

At Schneider Medical Center in Petah Tikva, 50% of the coronavirus patients are ultra-Orthodox, as are 50%-60% at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, and 40% at the capital’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, the reports said.

The reports came amid growing impatience from officials at the ultra-Orthodox community, some of whose members have appeared to flout government orders restricting public gatherings, movement and activities — imposed in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, which has so far infected upward of 4,000 Israelis.

The cabinet on Sunday held a lengthy discussion how to encourage stricter adherence to virus-related restrictions in the ultra-Orthodox community.

Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri, left, speaks with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman during a meeting in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During the meeting Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was tapped as the government point man on the issue, according to Channel 12.

The channel said that Deri discussed with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, the possibility of arranging for the army’s Home Front Command to set up special facilities to house ultra-Orthodox patients with mild symptoms of the virus so as to curb the spread of the disease in the community.

The cabinet was set to hold another meeting to vote on further restrictions on movements and the economy later Sunday evening.

Ministers were expected to approve, via teleconference, the deployment of hundreds of soldiers to enforce lockdown rules and could also green-light further curbs on the economy, or even order a full lockdown of the country.

Channel 13 reported that ministers will also consider the Health Ministry’s urging of a total lockdown on the entire population for the first night of Passover next week, when Jews customarily hold large festive meals, known as seders, with extended family and friends.

The reports came after earlier the Finance Ministry’s director-general said the government is considering imposing a full quarantine on the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak and other predominantly ultra-Orthodox areas amid the sharply rising number of coronavirus cases in those places.

“We’re having quite a few problems with ultra-Orthodox society, in places like Bnei Brak,” Shai Babad told the Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus.

He added: “Some of the [cabinet] deliberation was talking about how we could maybe succeed in putting a lockdown in place and isolating those same areas.”

Bnei Brak has seen the second highest number of infections in the country, according to Health Ministry figures, after Jerusalem, where the coronavirus has also spread through the community.

Officials have attributed the high infection rates in the region to a lack of adherence to Health Ministry guidelines (there have been many reports of large gatherings taking place in those communities for weddings, prayer services and other events in spite of announced restrictions), the crowded nature of many ultra-Orthodox communities, and a lack of access by many to media and communication means.

In the most recent large-scale violation of government orders, hundreds of people took part in a funeral procession in Bnei Brak early Sunday, jamming closely together in contravention of social distancing rules as police looked on without taking action.

The force later defended the decision by saying a clash with the participants could have brought thousands to the streets and that it was therefore preferable to let the crowd disperse on its own.

A prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbi on Sunday told The Times of Israel that Israeli media were trying to “slur” Haredim by creating the impression that they are responsible for spreading the coronavirus

As of Sunday evening, 4,247 people had been diagnosed the novel coronavirus, including 74 in serious condition, the Health Ministry said. Of the serious cases, 59 are attached to ventilators and another 82 people are in moderate condition. There have been 15 deaths from the virus.

Under Health Ministry orders, Israelis are only supposed to venture out for supplies, to attend work categorized as essential, or for short periods of time straying no further than 100 meters from their homes. There is a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people and social distancing has been set for two meters at all times.

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