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London’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community does NOT have herd immunity

London’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is still at risk from coronavirus and has not achieved herd immunity, scientists warned today after a study showed two-thirds were infected by the disease last year.

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers found 64 per cent had Covid-19 antibodies after testing the blood of 1,750 members of the community.

That is one of the highest infection rates found in the world, and is comparable to the Brazilian city of Manaus where 76 per cent of the population were estimated to have antibodies.

It follows criticism of ultra-orthodox communities by Jewish leaders in the UK, Israel and New York for holding large-scale weddings and funerals that break social distancing rules.

In Israel there is anger that the community could be delaying the effects of the country’s world-beating vaccine drive with the ultra-Orthodox making up 12 per cent of the country’s population but two-thirds of infections.

However, experts warned today that the high infection rate in London would not protect members of the ultra-Orthodox community from the coronavirus pandemic through ‘herd immunity’ – when a virus stops spreading because enough people are immune

Scientists warned a prevalence of at least 85 per cent must be achieved to reach herd immunity, especially with the super-infectious Kent variant of coronavirus.

And because London’s ultra-Orthodox community is not isolated within the city, individuals are still at risk of catching the disease from the capital’s wider population and can spread infection outside their own community.

The results also showed lower antibody levels in older ultra-Orthodox Jews, with a prevalence of 54 per cent among the over-67s, who are most at risk of death or hospitalisation if they catch the virus.

The median age of the ultra-orthodox community in London is 14 – much lower than in the rest of the UK it is 40. This could also explain the low case fatality ratio of 0.3 per cent in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

And scientists also warn that the possibility of reinfection with a mutant antibody-defeating variant of coronavirus also poses a risk to ultra-Orthodox Jews, and that there is no firm evidence antibodies last beyond six months. 

Hasidic Jews in north London ignored social distancing rules back in May as hundreds gathered to celebrate a sacred festival in their religious calendar 

Pictured, father of the groom Bobov Grand Rabbi Bentzion Halberstam, 65, celebrating in a white satin robe as hundreds of maskless men and boys from the Hasidic Bobov community clapped

Pictured, father of the groom Bobov Grand Rabbi Bentzion Halberstam, 65, celebrating in a white satin robe as hundreds of maskless men and boys from the Hasidic Bobov community clapped

Jewish men and women suffered the highest death rates in the first wave of the pandemic in Britain

Jewish men and women suffered the highest death rates in the first wave of the pandemic in Britain

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found the rate of past infection in London's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was 64 per cent

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found the rate of past infection in London’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was 64 per cent

Scientists said as London's infection rate remains high the Jewish community there haven't achieved herd immunity, because they could still catch the virus from the wider population

Scientists said as London’s infection rate remains high the Jewish community there haven’t achieved herd immunity, because they could still catch the virus from the wider population

MORE THAN FIFTY ORTHODOX JEWISH WITH UP TO 300 GUESTS ILLEGALLY HELD IN LONDON 

Dozens of illegal Jewish Orthodox weddings with up to 300 guests have taken place in London during England’s third national lockdown, whistleblowers claimed today.

More than 50 ceremonies have allegedly taken place in the capital during lockdown with lookouts used to raise the alarm and money put aside for potential fines.

Sources told Jewish News the weddings were ‘happening all over’ with the bride at one in Stamford Hill, North London, said to have been positive for Covid-19.

It comes after a school being used as a Covid testing centre was revealed to have hosted a secret wedding for 150 guests which had to be broken up by police.

Yesodey Hatorah Girls’ Senior School in Stamford Hill was raided by officers following a tip-off that around 150 guests had gathered last Thursday night.

Professor Stephen Evans, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not involved in the study, warned it would be ‘very dangerous’ for the UK’s 60,000-strong ultra-Orthodox community to shrug off Covid-19 restrictions such as wearing face masks and social distancing.

‘Firstly there are 36 per cent who are presumably still vulnerable and with the virus still circulating at high levels the probability that more will be infected is high,’ he told MailOnline.

‘Secondly, the protection afforded by natural immunity is by no means 100 per cent against the previously prevalent strains.

‘As I understand it, but I’m not a virologist, natural immunity tends to be less effective against mutant strains than a vaccine can be, and so it’s quite likely that those who have previously had Covid-19 could still transmit the virus to others.

‘The consequence is that it is very dangerous if they think they can stop following rules.’

The study found 0.3 per cent of those in the community in Britain have already died from Covid-19 – the equivalent of 180 people – but this is likely to rise if the virus continues to spread to older people.

Dr Michael Marks, who led the study, said it would ‘not be safe’ to assume there is enough herd immunity to prevent further transmission of the virus.

‘Antibody levels fall over time and we don’t currently know accurately how long any protection from antibodies lasts,’ he said.

‘Finally, new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are emerging and there is some evidence that people who were infected with older variants of the virus may not have as much protection against some of these newer variants.

‘In other settings, such as Manaus in Brazil, where very high (antibody levels) have also been reached there continues to be evidence of ongoing transmission.’

He added: ‘Herd immunity is not determined only by biological features. The prevalence required for collective immunity is highly dependent on behaviour, in particular the amount of contact. 

‘Therefore communities which have more frequent contact with higher numbers of people will have a higher threshold for herd immunity.’

Studies have suggested antibodies against the virus are likely to be maintained for at least six months in someone who has previously suffered an infection. 

But scientists say that these may not stop a re-infection, meaning a Covid-19 survivor could still catch and pass on the disease to someone who is more at risk.

Tests on the vaccines show that while they can stop someone from suffering severe symptoms and being hospitalised, they may not stop an infection.

There is also mounting concerns over the new variants, which appear to have mutations enabling them to dodge previous immunity.

A police officer is told earlier in the day of May's gathering that only 10 members of the same family, who lived at the address anyway, would be attending the wedding

In the footage, an officer is seen searching the house, saying 'I'm crashing the party'. A reveler then replies, 'do you want to have a little drink? A beer?' The policeman dismisses the offer

Officers attended the scene in north London in May before the celebrations, left, and were told that no more than 10 members of the same family, which lived at the house anyway, would be there. Police went back a few hours later and found the party in full swing, right 

The wedding took place in the parking lot, but then continued inside where video shared to social media showed hundreds of men were packed together and not wearing masks

The wedding took place in the parking lot, but then continued inside where video shared to social media showed hundreds of men were packed together and not wearing masks

Guests were warned not to take video but it was still shared on social media on Tuesday

Guests were warned not to take video but it was still shared on social media on Tuesday

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said a previous infection does not guarantee ‘100 per cent’ protection.

Rules on UK weddings during third lockdown 

The UK Government has said people in England should only consider booking a wedding or civil partnership, or continuing with one already booked, in ‘exceptional circumstances’. 

This may be if someone or a partner is seriously ill and not expected to recover, or is to undergo debilitating treatment or life-changing surgery. 

Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies must only take place with up to six people. Anyone working at the event is not included in the total.

People are urged to stay local and avoid travelling outside of their local area, but they are able to travel in England to attend a wedding if they ‘absolutely need to’ and it is being held in accordance with the legislation.

People can also leave England and travel to other parts of the UK or abroad, to attend a marriage. This is again when it is taking place as set out in the legislation, subject to any travel restrictions in that country.

‘An infection doesn’t actually stop you getting reinfected as soon as three months later,’ he told MailOnline. ‘But the plus point though is that most of the reinfections tend to be asymptomatic. So within that community many of those who are already immune would be most likely to suffer a relatively mild re-infection.’

Professor Tracy Hussell, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Manchester, told MailOnline the community would not achieve herd immunity unless the ‘whole country/world has herd immunity’.

‘They could still pass it on to other people who are not immune and so should therefore follow the protection guidelines,’ she said. ‘One might argue that some people only interact within the community. However, remember that up to 40 per cent are still not immune.’

Communal events and gatherings have continued in the ultra-Orthodox community despite lockdowns, according to reports.

More than 50 ultra-Orthodox wedding with up to 300 guests have already been illegally held in London during shutdowns, an investigation has claimed.

They added lookouts were used to raise the alarm in case the events were spotted, with money also put aside to cover potential fines. 

Sources told the Jewish News the weddings were ‘happening all over’ with the bride at one in Stamford Hill said to have tested positive for Covid-19.

The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has condemned the lockdown-busting gatherings as a ‘most shameful desecration of all that we hold dear’.

‘At a time when we are all making such great sacrifices, it amounts to a brazen abrogation of the responsibility to protect life and such illegal behaviour is abhorred by the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community,’ he said on Twitter last month.

He aired his fury after police broke up an ultra-Orthodox wedding with 150 guests at Yesody Hatorah Girls’ Senior School in Stamford Hill, north London, which is being used as a coronavirus testing centre, last Thursday.

The organiser, who detectives are now searching for, is facing a £10,000 penalty and five others, thought to include the bride and groom, were stung £200 after officers busted the address at 9.14pm following a tip-off. 

The principal of the school had died from the virus.

Large gatherings in the ultra-Orthodox community have also been taking place in New York, where hundreds attended a wedding without wearing masks last month, and in Israel.

The large group was pictured inside the Shaarei Zion synagogue in the city for the wedding of the 18-year-old son of the head of the Bobov Hasidic sect.

Guests had travelled from as far afield as London and Israel, according to reports, risking spreading the virus and mutant variants further.

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox jews have also been pictured thronging the streets for the funerals of famous rabbis in Jerusalem, despite the nationwide lockdown. 

Photos show the men attending the events packed tightly together with many not wearing masks.

Israeli defence minister and political party head Benny Gantz decried the pictures as revealing how ‘unequal enforcement looks’. 

‘Millions of families and children are locked in their homes and abide by the rules while thousands of (ultra-Orthodox) crowd the funeral, most of them without masks,’ he said.

In Israel the community accounts for about a third of all cases, despite making up just 12 per cent of the population. 

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews pictured attending the funeral of the Head of Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Soloveiitchik, in Jerusalem on January 31

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews pictured attending the funeral of the Head of Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Soloveiitchik, in Jerusalem on January 31

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews pictured attending the funeral of the Head of Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Soloveiitchik, in Jerusalem on January 31

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews pictured attending the funeral of the Head of Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Soloveiitchik, in Jerusalem on January 31

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews pictured attending the funeral of the Head of Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Soloveiitchik, in Jerusalem on January 31

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews pictured attending the funeral of the Head of Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Soloveiitchik, in Jerusalem on January 31

In their study, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found the rate of infection was 64 per cent after taking blood samples.

Suspected infections peaked in early March, just before the first lockdown, when rates then began to fall sharply, before rising again in the autumn once restrictions were lifted.

The researchers say crowded housing and deprivation are also thought to explain why the community has higher rates.

Ultra-Orthodox families have significantly larger households than the UK average – with five to six individuals per house compared to a UK average of 2.3 – and tend to live in areas of increased population density.  

The Mayor of Hackney has previously called on Orthodox Jews to stop holding massive weddings after a string of events breaking lockdown rules emerged. 

During the research, 697 people (37.5 per cent) reported an illness they thought was consistent with Covid-19.  There were clear peaks in reported illness consistent with the first and second waves of the virus in the UK. 

A total of 16 (0.9 per cent) individuals reported hospitalisation for COVID-19 and a further three individuals were reported to have died of COVID-19. 

Dr Anthony Fauci, the head of the Laboratory of Immunoregulation (LIR) in the US, said at least 85 per cent of the population needs antibodies to achieve herd immunity.


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