Antwerp Jewish community braces for 85% infection rate, hundreds of deaths
(JTA) — Jewish community leaders in Antwerp are predicting that the coronavirus will infect 85% of its members — a significantly higher rate than the one projected for Belgium’s population.
The projection, which was compiled last week and obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, also predicts that the coming weeks will see at least 550 deaths in the heavily haredi Orthodox community based on a calculation of a 3.4% death rate among 25,000 people.
Marc Van Ranst, a prominent Belgian who has led the country’s anti-influenza policy, said Tuesday that he expects half of Belgium’s population to contract the virus. Other estimates put the figure at 70%.
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As of Friday, Belgium had 1,795 confirmed cases and 21 deaths from the COVID-19 virus.
Rabbi Pinchas Kornfeld, secretary-general of the Machsike Hadas religious community in Antwerp, told JTA that he was aware of several community members who went into self-isolation because they suspect they have the virus. There have been no deaths or severe cases from within the community, he said.
The estimate, compiled by medical experts in the community, said the projections for Antwerp Jews are “higher than the general population due to social interactions” among its members. A fifth of the community, or about 3,400 people, will require hospitalization and 10%, or 1,700 of the members, will reach a critical medical condition, according to the estimate.
Michael Freilich, a Modern Orthodox lawmaker from Antwerp, echoed the thinking from the estimate. He told JTA that the higher infection rate “makes sense, because Antwerp Jews all know each other, each synagogue is an extended family.”
“If the average Belgian person has a circles of 15 close friends and family,” he said, “then with Antwerp Jews it’s 150 people.”
Kornfeld said that members of his community are reluctant to tell others about diseases.
“People don’t want to say ‘I have corona,’ it’s seen as a private matter so there’s no way of knowing how far it’s spread so far.”
Belgium went into partial lockdown on Monday.
Rabbinical authorities from across Antwerp’s multiple haredi sections have instructed congregants to respect the lockdown order and refrain from gathering with people from outside their own household.
Many have, but others from the community are flouting the kingdom’s emergency regulations, Shmulie Markowitz, head of the Hatzole Antwerp Jewish community emergency and rescue unit, said Friday.
Specifically, community members are violating rules that preclude more than 10 individuals occupying the same space at a store.
“People push in, and they bring their children with them, and this must stop,” he said in an impassioned plea he sent over WhatsApp to many community members.
Freilich said the projections can be avoided.
“Social distancing and partial quarantine are meant to ensure such numbers are never reached,” he said.