Ultra-Orthodox, Arab neighborhoods again centers of Jerusalem virus surge

Ultra-Orthodox, Arab neighborhoods again centers of Jerusalem virus surge

The capital sees a doubling of recorded cases over past week, with most new infections spread between family members

Police officers patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem to enforce the emergency regulations, on July 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police officers patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem to enforce the emergency regulations, on July 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coronavirus cases doubled in the capital over the past week, with most of the rise concentrated in ultra-Orthodox and East Jerusalem neighborhoods, the Corona National Information and Knowledge Center announced on Friday.

According to the center, a government body of researchers that serves as an advisory panel to the Health Ministry and the Home Front Command, the morbidity rate in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem stood at 17 percent over the past week, as opposed to a positive test rate of only 5% among other residents in the city.

These neighborhoods include Mea Shearim, Geulah, Mekor Baruch, Sanhedria and several other ultra-Orthodox enclaves, and most new infections were spread between family members.

As of Thursday morning, some 487 new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in the city this week, with 32% of them being youths under 19 years of age and 14% of cases being traced to schools.

Police officers close synagogues and hand out fines to Haredi Jews in Jerusalem’s Bukharim neighborhood, following government restrictions imposed as part of the effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, April 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Seventy-two out of 160 new COVID-19 patients diagnosed on Thursday were ultra-Orthodox and 42 East Jerusalem residents.

“In light of the morbidity data, it is recommended to focus on information and enforcement in the ultra-Orthodox and East Jerusalem neighborhoods,” the center said.

During the pandemic’s first wave, the ultra-Orthodox community was disproportionately affected by the virus. The higher infection rates in ultra-Orthodox communities have largely been ascribed to overcrowded conditions in their neighborhoods, the sector’s intensely communal nature and the initial refusal of rabbis to endorse social-distancing measures and the shutting of synagogues and other religious institutions.

However, ultra-Orthodox Jews subsequently embraced social distancing and masks, but this does not appear to have spared the community from the second wave.

According to Channel 12, a growing number of ultra-Orthodox Israelis have been taking coronavirus tests through unofficial channels so as not to have their cases recorded by health authorities due to worries that their communities could be put under lockdown, like the overwhelmingly Haredi city of Bnei Brak was earlier this year.

The station reported that there are those in the community who have expressed concerns over how their communities are perceived by secular Israelis, some of whom blamed them for the spread of the virus.

Rabbi David Yosef, the son of former Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and a member of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party’s Council of Torah Sages, has said that anybody who refuses to take a test constitutes a public danger.

Cases have surged across Israel in recent weeks, prompting the government to reimpose some measures.

Renewed restrictions on public gatherings came into effect at 8 a.m. on Friday morning with indoor events mostly limited to 20 people, as the Health Ministry announced the number of cases diagnosed in the past 24 hours had again broken previous records.

Police officers guard at the entrance to a neighborhood in the city of Lod, July 3, 2020, during a closure on some neighborhood in the city following the spread of the Coronavirus. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The new limitations, approved by the cabinet on Thursday evening, included a limit of up to 20 people in most closed spaces, including inside homes, and up to 50 people at synagogues, event halls, bars and clubs.

Synagogues were initially included in the 20-person limitations, but were upgraded after a conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, according to a statement from the latter’s office.

The Health Ministry on Friday morning reported 1,090 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours, its highest-yet number of newly confirmed daily cases.

There was one more death since Thursday evening, bringing the national toll from the pandemic to 325.

There were 70 people in serious condition, 27 of whom were on ventilators, and 67 in moderate condition.

The ministry said there have been 27,542 cases since the start of the pandemic, of which 9,618 were active; 17,599 people have recovered.

Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced the renewed measures at a press conference on Thursday, in which the premier said “the virus is still here, in a big way.” The challenge is not simple and “the battle will take time,” he said.

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