Hasidic community in Canada placed under lockdown after 20 diagnosed with virus

4,000 members of Tosh community quarantined after members test positive for coronavirus; outbreak believed linked to people travelling between Quebec and New York

The entrance to Kiryas Tosh, Canada, March 30, 2020. (Screen grab/Twitter)
The entrance to Kiryas Tosh, Canada, March 30, 2020. (Screen grab/Twitter)

Some 4,000 members of the Hasidic Tosh community in the Montreal region have been put under quarantine after around 20 of them tested positive for the new coronavirus following a trip to New York, Canadian health officials said Monday.

“They started to have symptoms last week. We got first test [results] yesterday,” said Eric Goyer, the head of public health in the area of Quebec that includes Boisbriand, where the Jewish community is located.

Of the first 40 people tested, about half came back positive, alarming health authorities.

At the start of the month, several members of the community traveled to New York state, which is now the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, to attend events for the festival of Purim, and some members of the community studying in the city returned home to visit family. The Tosh Hungarian dynasty is entirely based in Canada.

Illustrative. Jewish men use ‘social distancing’ as they pray outside the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, March 20, 2020. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

“There’s a lot of coming and going, people have parents and brothers in New York and there are weddings and celebrations,” Abraham Ekstein, leader of a neighboring Jewish community, told the Montreal Gazette.

The community has asked local police to make sure nobody enters or leaves unless they are providing an essential service, the report said.

The highly religious Yiddish-speaking community shuns listening to the radio or watching television. Most members have a rudimentary understanding of French or English, although Goyer said the community had translated a number of publications about coronavirus into Yiddish.

He said the community had voluntarily placed itself in isolation for 14 days and that its members were providing an “extraordinary” amount of collaboration with health authorities.

Canada as a whole had 6,671 declared coronavirus cases, and 67 deaths, as of Monday, according to a tracker run by Johns Hopkins University.

In Quebec, which accounts for roughly half the country’s confirmed cases, police checkpoints have already been set up to curb access to eight parts of the province in order to stem the virus’s spread.

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