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In Israel more than 7,000 Israelis have been infected and 37 have died. The Israeli town of Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish town, became coronavirus central in Israel. It is one of the poorest and most densely populated cities in Israel, and the tenth most densely populated city in the world. Bnei Brak has been placed under effective lockdown and police set up cordons around the town to reduce the flow of traffic moving in and out.
About 4,500 elderly residents - those deemed most at risk - will be evacuated from the town and quarantined in specially designated hotels, according to the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
As the BBC reports, across the country, people have been told to stay within a 100-metre (330 ft) radius of their homes; public gatherings have been banned; and anyone going outdoors has been told to cover their face with a mask or scarf.
From the Algemeiner:
Bnei Brak has the dubious distinction of being Israel’s “Corona Capital” amidst the COVID-19 epidemic. The Israeli police and army now limit entry and exit at the city’s perimeter, and patrol its streets to enforce order.
Bnei Brak’s dense population, which includes many large families living in small apartments, is vulnerable to any epidemic. The city’s tardy and irresponsible responses to the current COVID-19 plague have tragically brought the city to its current predicament.
The other reason for such a rapid spread of the virus is that ultra-orthodox residents of the town are under-informed about science and necessary measures to protect themselves. The city’s religious authorities initially decreed that spiritual customs and rituals should proceed as normal. When the rabbis eventually reversed course thanks to incontrovertible infection stats and continued pleas from public-health experts, it was already too late for thousands.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the acknowledged leader of certain insular groups, promptly ordered his followers to disregard those rules. After much pressure in the face of rising morbidity and mortality, Rabbi Kanievsky diametrically reversed his pronouncement and directed his followers to comply with the social distancing rules. In the interim, there were numerous large gatherings and a disproportionate rise of COVID-19 infections (and deaths) in Bnei Brak.
Kenneth H. Ryesky of the Algemeiner writes about Rabbi Kanievsky that, given insular groups’ cultural contempt toward natural science and outsiders, he initially underestimated the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and prioritized the continued operation of the yeshivas and synagogues over the virus’s ravages.