(JTA) — The mayor of Antwerp, a city in Belgium with a large haredi Orthodox Jewish community, has singled out their neighborhoods for intensive COVID-19 testing.
Bart De Wever, a right-wing politician who enjoys strong support in Jewish circles, announced the plan on Thursday to carry out 6,500 tests in two neighborhoods of central Antwerp with many Jewish residents because infection rates have jumped there and are now four times higher than the city average, he said.
“Our city crisis team is following infections in various neighborhoods,” he said. “We want to do a major testing campaign in neighborhoods where it’s going badly,” also to “see if there additional variants of the virus.”
De Wever stressed at a news conference that the two neighborhoods are being singled out not because Jews live there, but because they “have many contacts in the United Kingdom, and there’s a chance that the British variant is going around there and we want to know on what scale.”
The so-called U.K. COVID-19 strain, or B-117, emerged in the United Kingdom late last year and is believed to be more infectious than the original Chinese strain that started the pandemic.
Testing for the strain “helps prevent thousands of people going into quarantine. We want to act in a focused manner,” de Wever said.
He also told the VRT broadcaster that the neighborhoods in questions “have more non-Jews than Jews.”
Tests are voluntary. The city has delivered to letter boxes 6,500 personal invitations to be tested this weekend and on Jan. 24.
Despite early projections of high infection and death rates in close-knit haredi circles, Jewish community representatives and members have said only a handful members have died of COVID-19.