April 2 (UPI) -- About 14 percent of Israel's confirmed coronavirus patients live in the ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak, health officials said Thursday, warning that the real number of those sick in the city could be 80 times greater.
The Health Ministry said the Tel Aviv suburb reported 900 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a 25 percent jump over the previous day. Overall, Israel had about 6,000 cases and 34 deaths as of midday Thursday, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel are experiencing some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases per capita in Israel. Bnei Brak has the second highest number of cases, yet is the ninth-largest city in the country with a population of about 200,000. Its infection rate is four times higher than that of Jerusalem, which has the most cases in Israel.
Dr. Ran Saar, head of the Maccabi health maintenance organization, told a Knesset committee Thursday the true number of cases in the city could be much higher -- as many as 75,000. A healthy ministry review of the figures showed, however, the figures cited by Saar were probably miscalculated, Haaretz reported.
Ofer Shelah, a Knesset member from the Yesh Atid Party, called on police to be deployed to the city over the Passover holiday, which begins Wednesday. He also wants increased testing there.
"From different healthcare providers, it appears the ultra-Orthodox public is afraid of getting tested before Passover, and the decisions on the matter at the government level are lacking and are influenced by political considerations," he said.
Interior Minister Arye Dery and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday ordered the evacuation of all persons over the age of 80 from Bnei Brak. Some 4,500 were to be transferred to live in a hotel outside the city during the outbreak.
Those between the ages of 60 and 80 were placed on strict home quarantine and members of the Israel Defense Forces were expected to help residents and distribute food and medicine.