New virus variant brings spike in cases in major Jewish centres

Barnet, Hackney and Hertsmere wards record big rises. Charedi areas also face lockdown challenges for schools


The rapid spread of the new variant of the virus across London is reflected in boroughs with a large Jewish population.

By January 1, the weekly rate in Barnet had risen to 1,002 cases of infection out of every 100,000 people. Hackney’s rate stood at 879, compared to the average for English districts of 481. In Hertsmere, the rate was even higher at 1,022 per 100,000.

Within Barnet, the virus was rife in wards with a particularly strong Jewish presence. The rate was 1,073 per 100,000 in Hendon, 1,035 in Edgware and 999.5 in Golders Green, according to council figures for the week ending January 5.

In Hackney, two of the wards with the biggest Jewish population had below the borough average — Springfield with 690 per 100,000 and Stamford Hill West, 783, based on local authority data for the week ending December 30. However, a third, Cazenove, was over the average with 914.

In other parts of the country with sizeable Jewish communities, the rate was below the English weekly average at the start of the year — 298 per 100,000 in Salford, 325 in Manchester and 404 in Gateshead.

The new school lockdown has posed fresh difficulties for the most conservative Charedi schools, whose families forbid children access to the internet. According to the latest Department for Education guidelines, children may still be able to attend school if they have difficulty engaging with remote learning at home.

Chris Kennedy, Hackney’s cabinet member for health, adult social care and leisure, said the council was “aware that remote learning and home-schooling present particular challenges to the Charedi community due to large families and a widespread lack of access to digital devices and resources. We have been working closely with our partners in the community throughout the pandemic to support their needs and to control the spread of Covid in Stamford Hill and will continue to do so in this new lockdown period. Arrangements for schools and vulnerable children will form an important part of our conversations with the community.”

A source in Gateshead reported a high proportion within the community who “ticked the key worker box” whose children may still attend school. Schools would be operating, most likely with a reduced timetable.

One reason for this was the government’s instruction for nurseries to stay open, which had “a ripple effect on who in the community is classed as a key worker. The nurseries employ over 50 people in the community.”

Also, parents were classifying their children as “vulnerable” in that they would “not get an education if they stay at home. This is because the schools don’t want to encourage online usage in any format whatsoever. School over the phone is a very poor substitute.”

Asked in Parliament on Wednesday whether children without access to technology could be classified as vulnerable and therefore still attend school, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson responded: “I can confirm that.”

A spokesman for Chinuch UK, an umbrella group for many Charedi schools, said only children “who have been properly assessed as meeting the Department for Education’s vulnerability criteria or are children of critical workers” would be allowed to attend its schools.

The organisation was liaising with all relevant local authorities and the Department for Education “to navigate these particularly challenging conditions”.




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