London's strictly Orthodox Jewish community has one of the world's highest rates of Covid-19 past infection, according to a study. Roughly 15,000 of the capital's strictly Orthodox Jews have contracted coronavirus, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found.

This gives the community a past infection rate of 64%, nine times higher than the UK average of 7%.

The rate is "among the highest reported anywhere in the world" the study found.

As the study was conducted in December 2020, before a national surge in coronavirus cases, researchers believed "it is likely "the rate is now even higher.

The reason for this higher prevalence remains unclear, the study said.  High rates of overcrowded homes and higher levels of deprivation among London's strictly-Orthodox Jewish Community could be linked to the increased rate, researchers said.

The average household in the community is five-to-six individuals, compared to a UK average of 2.3 per house. But Jewish men are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 than Christian men in the UK, even after adjusting for socio-economic factors.

Blood samples were taken from 1,242 individuals as part of the study, while more than 1,750 individuals responded to a survey.

There are an estimated 23,000 strictly Orthodox Jews living in London. Children aged under five years had a past infection rate of 28% - the lowest in the community.

Secondary school children and adults had a rate of around 75%. Overall, men were found to have a higher rate of infection than women.

"Religious and ethnic minority groups have been at increased risk at all stages of the pandemic leading to preventable health inequalities," said Dr Rosalind Eggo, who co-led the study.

Evidence shows people from ethnic minority backgrounds have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Michael Marks, who co-led the study, said: "These findings could support potential new interventions that may help reduce infection in the community.

"The rates we observed are among the highest reported anywhere in the world to date.

"We would very much like to thank the community. It was a privilege to work directly with them, and think this community partnership approach could be a blueprint to further understanding of the impact of Covid-19 on other groups in the UK." --BBCi



Israel says it is transferring 5,000 doses of Covid vaccine to immunize frontline Palestinian health workers. Israel has one of the most advanced vaccination program in the world but Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza have yet to see one.

UN experts say Israel has a responsibility for vaccinations there. Israel says that is not part of agreed protocols and it has not received any requests from the Palestinians. This is its first such transfer. Why are Palestinians not getting vaccines?

Israel has recorded some 640,000 Covid cases since the pandemic began, and just over 4,700 deaths, Johns Hopkins University research shows. There have been almost 160,000 cases in the West Bank and Gaza, with 1,833 deaths, the research shows.

Israel's special deal with vaccine supplier Pfizer - Israel is providing vital medical data in return for a quick rollout - has helped it to become the country that has inoculated more people per head of population than any other.

The vaccination drive targeting younger people, Israel 'confident over full vaccine effect'

Some 1.7 million people, almost 20% of the population, have already received both doses. More than three million people have received the first. However, the country remains under lockdown.

The office of Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz confirmed on Sunday that Israel would make the transfer to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians have not yet commented.

What is the situation in the territories?

Neither the West Bank, whose limited self-rule is run by the Palestinian Authority, nor Gaza, controlled by militant Islamist movement Hamas, has started vaccination program.

Palestinian health officials say deals are being negotiated for vaccine supplies but it is unclear when they will start. The territories also hope to benefit from the World Health Organization-backed Covax scheme, to supply vaccines to poorer states and nations, but again timings are unknown.

A few thousand Russian-made vaccines have arrived but is unclear who they have gone to. About 2.7 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, and another 1.8 million in Gaza.

Whose responsibility is it to vaccinate Palestinians? Israel points to the Oslo accords, agreed in 1993 and 1995, which set out how parts of the West Bank and Gaza would be governed under an interim framework until a permanent peace settlement can be reached.  It says these give the Palestinian Authority oversight of public health under the principles of self-determination.

Israel's borders explained in maps. The Palestinians say those accords also say Israel should co-operate in combating epidemics and contagious diseases.



Thousands of ultra-Orthodox mourners have gathered in Jerusalem to attend the funeral of a top rabbi, in breach of Israel's coronavirus regulations.  Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, 99, died on Sunday following months of ill health after contracting Covid-19.

The country is currently under a third national lockdown, but police did not intervene to disperse the crowd. The scenes sparked backlash from deputy prime minister Benny Gantz ahead of a vote to extend lockdown rules.

"Millions of families and children are locked in their homes and abide by the rules while thousands of Haredim crowd the funeral, most of them even without masks," Mr Gantz tweeted describing it as evidence of "unequal enforcement".

"We will not agree to the continuation of an ineffective fake lockdown. Either everyone is locked down - or everyone opens. The days of indulgence are over."

Relations between Israel's power-sharing coalition partners, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the centrist Mr Gantz, collapsed last month.

They and their parties will now face an early election in March -- the fourth in two years. Ultra-Orthodox Israelis, or Haredim, make up a key part of Mr Netanyahu's voting base so the perceived double-standard about lockdown enforcement has become a big political issue.

There has been clashes reported across the country in recent weeks when officials have tried to challenge groups flouting social distancing guidelines -- including by keeping orthodox schools open and holding mass events.

Israel has been racing ahead of other nations to vaccinate its population. More than a third of the country's 9m population have had their first dose and some 1.7m have received two. But despite health data showing protection is very high for those vaccinated, new infections have continued to grow by thousands daily. 



Israel's vaccination program is showing signs of working to drive down infections and illness in the over-60s.

The fall appears to be most pronounced in older people and areas furthest ahead in their immunization efforts.

This suggests it is the vaccine, and not just the country's current lockdown, taking effect.

Israeli Ministry of Health (MoH) figures show 531 over-60s, out of almost 750,000 fully vaccinated, tested positive for coronavirus (0.07%).

And far fewer fell ill, with 38 becoming hospitalized with moderate, severe or critical disease - a tiny proportion.

The MoH assessed the medical records of almost a million people in total - 743,845 of whom were over the age of 60 - until at least seven days after they received a second dose of the vaccine.

There were three deaths in vaccinated over-60s - although it is possible they contracted the infection earlier, before their immunity had time to build.

Before the vaccine had time to take effect, more than 7,000 infections were recorded, just under 700 cases of moderate to critical illness and 307 deaths.

The MoH data suggests infections and illnesses fell consistently from 14 days after receiving the first jab onwards. --BBCi


NEW YORK – As the world continues to vaccinate and look toward the future after the COVID-19 pandemic, the Orthodox Union, the nation’s oldest and largest umbrella organization for the North American Orthodox Jewish community, convened executive directors from 55 North American synagogues to begin to gear up for the re-opening of full community and synagogue activities.  

They discussed the challenges brought upon by the pandemic as well as how their communities, rabbis and youth program leaders were able to provide innovative programming in ways that ensured the safety of their membership and met the needs of those with particularly high risks, such as the elderly. 

The group also delved into the economic impact the pandemic had on their shuls’ revenue streams, like large simchas and other fundraisers as well as the hopes that the vaccine administration will help their synagogues and congregants eventually return to normal operations, and events in the near future.  

The executive directors come from more than 55 U.S. synagogues across California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia participated in the virtual confab. The Canadian contingent joined from a handful of shuls in Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto.

“Once it was safe to do so, our shuls began to slowly re-open in line with local health, government and halachic guidance,” said Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer. “With limited in-person attendance as mandated by each state’s unique situation, these synagogues had to rapidly pivot to address their communities’ needs as well as the economic impact the pandemic had on their members and how it would affect the synagogues future participation and stability.” 

“As we look to the near future, and hopefully a period of successful and expedited vaccine administration, many of our shuls are left contemplating what’s next and how to resume their pre-COVID19 normal operations once it’s safe to do so,” said OU Synagogue & Community Services Long Island and Queens Regional Director Yehuda Friedman “It’s inspiring to see how these executive directors rose to the challenges of the moment and keep forging along during this tumultuous time. 

Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union, (OU), serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.

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