Another virus milestone – this time a happy one

Board president Marie van der Zyl (Jewish News)
Board president Marie van der Zyl (Jewish News)

There have been many milestones through this pandemic, most of them grim. However, there is some happier news now with this week’s figures marking more than two months since the last recorded Jewish death from Covid-19.

This time last year the situation was very different. According to figures collated by the Board of Deputies from communities around the country, in the week ending 19 June 2020, we recorded the 500th Jewish death from the virus. This number had been reached in the three months we started collating the funerals of community members for whom Covid was mentioned on the death certificate.

It was a traumatic time for everyone in the country but the Jewish community was disproportionately affected. We estimate that at least three in every thousand members of the Jewish community have died from Covid.

If the country had suffered a similar loss, more than 200,000 people would have died compared with the figure of about 125,000 presented in government data.

Various explanations have been put forward as to why we have suffered so disproportionately. The most persuasive of these are that the age profile of our community is older than that of the general population and at the start of the pandemic the Covid hotspots coincided with cities in which the bulk of the community lived – mainly in London and the south-east and large northern cities including Manchester.

The beginning of the epidemic also coincided with Purim – the definition of a super-spreader event – which occurred just before the first lockdown. This may have given the virus the opportunity to spread faster among Jews than it would otherwise have done.

Although we were hit hard during the first period of the pandemic, we also acted decisively. It was important that community organisations present a united front in supporting the new rules and regulations.

There was a challenge in maintaining religious freedom throughout the pandemic. In the initial emergency legislation, there was provision to allow local authorities to mandate emergency cremation. We collaborated with Muslim communities to ensure that the legislation was amended to take religious freedom into account. We worked with Milah UK and the Initiation Society to ensure that brit milah could continue throughout the pandemic.

The Board of Deputies arranged regular roundtables for the Charedi community
along with the Cabinet Office to secure Yiddish materials and other resources on covid security and vaccination promotion for the communities who at times found it more challenging to keep up with the fast changing rules.

We also went to great lengths to ensure that limits on numbers attending funerals and stone settings were lifted in a safe way.

The greatest factor in our recovery as a community was that we acted to protect ourselves.

In figures released in May, the over-70s in the Jewish community were the most vaccinated religious group in the country. In a survey, 96.9 percent of Jews in this age group reported that they had receive two doses of the vaccine.

We know from recent research that two doses of either of either the Pfizer or Astra-Zeneca vaccines are highly effective at protecting against serious illness and death, even against the Delta variant. Thankfully, Jews in the UK have understood and acted on this information. Had we not there would -undoubtedly have been many more deaths.

Now is not the time to let down our guard. The Delta variant is spreading quickly and I urge anyone who hasn’t already been -vaccinated to get their jab as soon as possible and for everyone to observe the regulations to the letter.

However, thanks to the wonderful work of the scientists, the NHS and community volunteers, there is now hope. We mourn all of those who lost their lives before their time but we also look forward to a welcome return to normality.

About the Author
Marie van der Zyl is the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
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