A senior Israeli official has reportedly warned that the country could end up with rampant coronavirus-related deaths if members of the ultra-Orthodox community who have ignored government directives to remain at home do not fall in line.
The unnamed official said that the country could wind up like Italy, where COVID-19 has spread out of control, collapsing the health system and killing thousands after citizens initially failed to fully obey quarantine measures, according to a Channel 12 news report Thursday.
“If we end up like Italy, it will be because of the conduct of part of the Haredi public that has not internalized the gravity of the situation,” the official reportedly said at a high level meeting.
“They don’t understand what we are facing here and in another week or two it could all blow up in our faces,” the official continued.
The death toll in Italy on Thursday reached 3,400, surpassing the toll in China, where the outbreak began. In Israel, the Health Ministry said Thursday that 677 people have now been confirmed as being infected with the virus, a jump of over 200 from the previous day. No deaths have been attributed to the virus, but six people are in serious condition.
Police have been used multiple times over the past week to break up large gatherings by members of the ultra-Orthodox community, in contravention of government guidelines limiting groups to 10 people or less. On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that police would be deployed to enforce a strict lockdown prohibiting all but essential travel outside the home.
Other Israelis have also treated the instructions as lax guidelines, continuing to pack supermarkets and beaches, leading Netanyahu to issue an urgent plea earlier this week to stop treating the then-partial lockdown as a vacation.
However, evidence has come to light that the virus spreads particularly quickly through Haredi neighborhoods and communities. In the Haredi Jerusalem suburb of Telz-Stone, for example, nearly one in four residents has been ordered into isolation and the government has mulled a full lockdown of the community. And in New York, at least 100 people in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn have tested positive.
Several prominent rabbinic leaders in Israel announced earlier this week that they would not comply with government directives, stating that their schools and yeshivas would remain open. They have limited class sizes to 10 students, a compromise reached after negotiations with Netanyahu’s interim government.
Reports have also surfaced of two ultra-Orthodox weddings that took place in Beit Shemesh this week.
Four people were arrested after one of the weddings in which 150 people participated. Among them was the father of the groom, an American citizen, who arrived recently in Israel from the United States and was supposed to have been in quarantine;
A second wedding in the town west of Jerusalem, which has a large ultra-Orthodox community, was between the scions of two well-known Haredi courts, the grandson of the Chernobyl Rebbe and the daughter of the Trebishan Rebbe.
The report said that the wedding organizers had secretly moved the wedding from Ashdod to Beit Shemesh and instructed those invited not to reveal to anyone that the wedding was going ahead. Those over 60 and persons with respiratory difficulties were reportedly asked not to attend.
According to the Haredi news portal Kikar Hashabbat the rabbis of the two courts had approved the wedding as “it is well known that no harm can come at a celebration of the righteous.”
Other Haredi leaders have urged community members to adhere to government restrictions.
On Thursday, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, the head of the rabbinical courts of the anti-Zionist Edah Haredit community, called on his followers to adhere to doctors instructions, terming it a life or death situation.
“It is important to listen to the instructions issued by doctors, if God forbid there is concern they may not be able to be saved later,” said Sternbuch.