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How the COVID-19 commissioner plans to reduce infection in Uman next year

CM 13/09/2021

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Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka spent only one day in Uman, Ukraine but he said that his time there was “eye-opening” and has helped him understand how the Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslau could be managed better.
The commissioner left for Uman on Thursday morning and returned Friday afternoon to oversee an outline for Uman travel prepared by the Health and Religious Affairs ministries. He told The Jerusalem Post that the event was, in fact, chaotic and admitted that the Health Ministry’s plan to send Magen David Adom to the country to assist in screening travelers for coronavirus did not go as planned. 
But Zarka is not deterred. He said that the situation can be managed better next year. Here is his plan:

1 – Designate a testing agent
“There needs to be one testing agent that everyone is required to test through before returning to Israel,” Zarka said.
This could be MDA, Hatzalah or a local company that is approved as meeting professional standards by the Health Ministry, he noted. 
“But anyone who wants to return would have to present a negative result from that testing agent and not another.”
This year, while MDA was present it was not exclusive and travelers complained there were not enough complexes. In addition, due to a lack of uniformity of testing certificates, it was challenging for airport personnel to differentiate between legal and forged documentation.
Zarka said he would recommend making the tests free.
“The cost would be worth it to stop the infection from coming here,” he stressed.
2 – Arrange to transfer positive cases back to Israel 
What happens if an Israeli Hassid tests positive for COVID-19? According to this year’s plan, he was meant to find a place to stay in Kyiv until he received a negative test result. Instead, hundreds of sick people boarded airplanes anyway and returned to the country.
But Zarka said this was a problem of planning.
“Many of these people, for whatever reason and likely socioeconomic, don’t have travel insurance and if they test positive, they do not have the means to stay in Ukraine,” Zarka explained. “I think we need to set up in advance a plane to transport positive people back to Israel. They can all go on the same flight. “
According to the commissioner, this is not only helpful to the travelers but also to Israel-Ukrainian diplomatic relations.
“They do not like and do not want our positive case hanging around in Ukraine,” Zarka said. 
 CORONAVIRUS ‘CZAR’ Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference in Jerusalem on Sunday (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) CORONAVIRUS ‘CZAR’ Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference in Jerusalem on Sunday (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
3 – Require isolation in state-run COVID hotels
Finally, the commissioner said that it needs to be understood that those people who test positive will be quarantined in a state-run coronavirus hotel to keep infection out of their homes and communities.
Because Haredim tend to have larger families and they live in small spaces, isolating from one another is difficult and the virus tends to spread faster.
Currently, around 21% of all infection in Israel is among the Haredi community, despite their comprising only around 12% to 13% of the population. 
“We need to be transparent from the beginning,” Zarka said. “Anyone who wants to fly should be allowed to but they should know that this will be the plan and that they cannot come back and infect others.”
He explained that a list of all positive returnees has been turned over to the Israel Police, as is the case with anyone who tests positive for the virus, and they are meant to be monitoring their isolation. However, as Tomer Lotan, director-general of the Public Security Ministry, told the post on Sunday, there is no special protocol for monitoring those who returned from Uman, and police only check-in on about 6,000 isolated people per day.
On the issue of the forged certificates, Zarka said that around 250 people are thought to have flown knowing they were positive and criminal cases have been opened against these people. But he said that one has to remember that 25,000 Hasidim traveled to Ukraine and, as such, not everyone should be stigmatized.
“I do not regret traveling to Uman at all,” the commissioner stressed. “I met with the Hasidim, these true believers, and I feel now and understand why there was no way to stop this pilgrimage.”
Zarka said that what he discovered in Uman was everything people described: on the one hand, people ignored the coronavirus rules and there were no masks or social distancing. On the other hand, these were incredibly spiritual people who were there for the prayers.
“It is in their blood, it is their faith, a mitzvah,” Zarka said. “It really strengthened my understanding that this is going to happen every year. We cannot stop it, so we need to figure out how to reduce the risk.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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