Covid-19 soars in Bnei Brak as ultra-orthodox Jews flout restrictions

Bnei Brak, Israel, Apr 3 (efe-epa).- A city six kilometres east of Tel Aviv has become Israel’s coronavirus hotspot prompting authorities to impose a lockdown to contain the pandemic.

Many of the more than 200,000 ultra-orthodox inhabitants of Bnei Brak respect their rabbis more than the authorities and have adopted their own recipe to tackle the outbreak: religious prayer.

Two of the Bnei Brak synagogue’s four doors have been locked from the outside.

The other two, on the inside, are flanked by police officers sporting white hazmat suits, goggles, masks, blue latex gloves and a belt for their weapons and handcuffs.

Outside around 15 more officers, who arrived in five vehicles that have blocked access to the street, stand around the temple.

The officers wait silently for some 20 ultra-Orthodox jews to finish praying.

They will be fined and the temple closed by the authorities.

In the ultra-religious city of Bnei Brak, coronavirus cases have soared exponentially in recent days, making it the hotspot of the pandemic in Israel.

“In the Jewish state they don’t let us pray in the synagogue, it’s a shame,” one resident of the town tells Efe.

“Praying protects us, saves us from the coronavirus, nothing else can protect us,” he adds.

The ban on praying in synagogues and other religious venues has been in force in Israel since last week but has been largely ignored in Bnei Brak, which only began to comply with the regulations on Sunday.

It required the endorsement of one of the town’s main rabbis, whom residents listen to more than the authorities.

Ran Saar, CEO of one of the country’s leading health care providers, told Parliament on Thursday the nearly 1,000 confirmed cases in Bnei Brak did not reflect the actual figures which are closer to 40 per cent of the total population, some 75,000 people.

Israel has recorded less than 7,000 infections.

Bnei Brak has been declared a red zone with police checkpoints scattered around and at the entrances and exits of the city.

A plan has been launched to evacuate residents aged over 80 and to take all those infected to hotels, where they are more isolated than in their homes especially given families in religious communities have an average of seven children.

Hours before the movement of people was limited, Efe walked the streets of the city, the most densely-populated in Israel, something that probably contributed to the spread of the virus.

“The problem is not only the number of people but that we are all so close,” Shlomo says.

“Another factor is that we share many spaces, being a religious city, everyone meets three times a day in the synagogues, they should have between 30 and 50 people but they often have around 80.”

It has been days since Shlomo has been down to pray in the courtyard with his neighbours, but he has joined them from his balcony as entire neighbourhoods gather for prayer.

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