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Israel’s COVID-19 Infection Rate Four Times Higher in Ultra-Orthodox Areas than Others in Israel

04-02-2020
Courtesy AP

JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced tightened restrictions overnight in Bnei Brak – an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community near Tel Aviv – and other unspecified areas, in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.   According to experts, the rate of COVID-19 infection is at least four times greater there than in the general public.

“I have instructed all ministries to present special assistance to the city of Bnei Brak. We are tightening the restrictions on movement into and out of Bnei Brak, and other areas as well, in order to prevent infection,” Netanyahu said in an address to the nation. “We will see to everyone and their needs.”

The ultra-Orthodox, Haredi Jews represent about 11 percent of the total Israeli population.  Although the population of Bnei Brak is some 200,000, they have 900 COVID-19 patients compared to Jerusalem's 916 out of a population of 900,000.   According to the Jerusalem Post, one in seven Israelis with coronavirus is from Bnei Brak.

“The Haredi population is highly connected, with strong social ties as well as large families and crowding. So it's high-risk society in Israel and elsewhere,” Dr. Hagai Levine, Epidemiologist at Hebrew University’s Braun School of Public Health told CBN News.

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“It seems like there is currently wide transmission in some Haredi communities. Severe urgent measures are needed to control the spread,” Levine said.

Professor Moti Ravid, Medical Director of Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center that’s located in Bnei Brak, said that there are several reasons why the disease spread so rapidly in those communities. 

Ravid said the Haredi community has limited access to media, many don’t speak Hebrew, they live in small apartments with large families and are generally medium to low income.  The community is also very young with an average age of 15 years younger than the rest of the country.

According to Ravid, they are less responsive to government guidelines and have a “clear tendency to their own behavior patterns.”

“They lagged in adaptation of the restrictions published by the Ministry of Health by about two weeks and more behind the general population,” Ravid said during a telephone briefing, courtesy of Media Central.

Ravid said that the rate of infection in the Haredi community as well as in some Arab sectors is much higher than that of the overall population.  That’s due in large part to their living custom in large “super families” he said.

“You cannot stop – you cannot even regulate the spread of the infection inside of families. If you have a family of 10 or 12 people crowded in an apartment of two bedrooms or something like 50-60 square meters (about 540-645 square feet), if one is infected, the whole family or a large percentage (will be infected),” Ravid said.

He noted that in China, where they lived in small apartments but also smaller families, the infection rate was 40 percent.  Here they would expect higher but with few fatalities.

“What you can prevent is the spread of the infection from these communities to the outside world and thus, diminish the number of infected people in the whole country,” he said.

“The Haredi community…are reluctant to listen to too many directives, to too much interference.  They’re very, very cautious to prevent any interference except the basic things of course.  So this is no exception.  They were late in understanding that it’s in their own best interest to follow the instructions and this is the result,” Ravid added.

Netanyahu said now there has been “a very positive change among the ultra-orthodox public” and that they had “well internalized the danger of the spread of the coronavirus.” 

“It is listening to the instructions and is behaving responsibly, with full backing from the rabbis,” he said. “But we regret that in certain places, the disease has already spread at a redoubled rate relative to other places.”

As a result, Netanyahu said in Bnei Brak and other areas they would reduce entries to and exits from the area, evacuate the quarantined and sick from their homes to “designated hotels appropriate to the special way of life of this sector.”  He said this was being done so they would not infect other family members.

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