London’s Charedi leaders have said families should “consider rescheduling” friends and family planning to visit from abroad for this month’s High Holy Days if they are from countries such as Israel, the United States and Belgium.
The stark warning came amid promises to work with strictly Orthodox families and Hackney Council on social distancing adherence after authorities said additional restrictions may be implemented to stop the virus spreading.
Charedi leaders set out their stall in a joint statement from senior figures in the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC), which counts more than 100 synagogues as members, and the Stamford Hill based Interlink Foundation.
Hackney is home to the biggest Charedi community in the country, but rates of confirmed coronavirus infections there are rising fast, amid reports that strictly Orthodox Jews are not keeping their distance or wearing face masks.
The borough’s infection rate is now almost three times the national average and Dr Sandra Husbands, director of public health for Hackney and the City of London, has said she is “extremely concerned” by the increase.
Husbands explained that most of the confirmed cases were in the N16 area of Hackney – centre of the Charedi community – adding that the data “strongly suggests that the original source of this is overseas visitors” from the US, Israel and Belgium, which all have large strictly Orthodox communities.
The UK Government advises against all but essential travel to the US, Israel and Belgium, because rates are so high there, and tells all visitors from these countries to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in the UK.
Husbands said that with the Jewish holiday season imminent, Hackney was “urging Stamford Hill residents to reconsider those travel plans and to avoid close contact with other households” to help stop the spread of the virus.
“If we do not quickly reverse the infection data trend in Stamford Hill, it seems very likely that there will be local restrictions imposed that could have a profound effect on the community and on upcoming religious festivals,” she said.
In response, the UOHC Rabbinate and lay leadership of the Charedi community said they “continue to encourage everyone within the community to adhere to the guidelines and we are working closely with Hackney Council to achieve this”.
They said: “As the High Holidays approach, we are raising awareness so that the community knows how to best apply and adapt to the social distancing rules in a range of public and private settings.
“We are also highlighting the need to think very carefully if and how many guests come into their homes over Yom Tov and are reminding those welcoming families from countries not on the UK safe list to quarantine for 14 days or consider rescheduling their visit to when the situation has improved.”