More than half of the members of a group of 114 Chabad followers who were placed in quarantine at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem after returning from the United States last week tested positive to the coronavirus, Israel's Defense Ministry said on Sunday.
The 65 patients will be hospitalized at the Shmu'el Harofe Hospital in central Israel, while 41 others will remain in isolation at the hotel. The results of eight further tests have yet to been ascertained.
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Group members said they learned of the diagnosis from the media before receiving official notices. None had declared symptoms when they left the United States.
The Hasidim, all Israeli citizens, had been studying at a yeshiva in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, which the American authorities fear has been the site of a major outbreak of the virus. Immediately after they landed in Israel, they were separated from other passengers, their passports were confiscated and they were placed on buses that took them to Jerusalem.
A member of the group, in his 20s, told the hotel that, upon boarding their flight from New York, they had been asked to sign affidavits pledging they did not suffer from the symptoms associated with COVID-19 and that, to the best of their knowledge, had not been in contact with a confirmed patient.
The forms, he said, "were all in English, without a logo, and El Al U.S. ground attendants came to collect them. Those who know English would translate.” According to him, everyone understood what they signed and did not lie.
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"None of us violated [the guidelines]. Contempt for the rules is not in the Chabad mentality," the man said, maybe one of us got sick from someone who was on the plane?"
"I don't know anyone who came in contact with a coronavirus patient," another said. "To say that we lied in the affidavit and did it on purpose - it's nonsense," he added. "Nobody is trying to circumvent the rules. Our rabbis themselves were very firm when it came to applying the Ministry of Health's guidelines."
The group learned of the diagnosis in the media, according to another member of the group, and they were now waiting for individual information. "We know that some are sick. Now the whole hotel is waiting for the phone to announce whether it is sick or not. It is very strange. There are 65 patients, 40 are negative - talk about stress."
A 21-year-old devotee who was in the Crowne Heights yeshiva for a year and a half said he was "waiting by the phone and praying."
"Everyone who came from New York knows it is an outbreak and every passenger who has been on the subway is exposed at the same level, so to say we knew we were sick before we came to this country is a lie," he added.
Last week, Haaretz reported that military officials had expressed frustration at the fact that the hotel, which was converted into a hospital for diagnosed coronavirus patients at great cost, was instead being used to house yeshiva students who may not even have the virus.