Covid19 Rate Soars Among B’nei Menashe Olim In India, Israel
(June 3) As calls for an investigation were sounded, the number of Covid19 cases among the 275 B’nei Menashe immigrants who left Manipur for Israel last week has risen dramatically. Over eighty of the group of 115 that stayed behind in New Delhi due to the illness have now tested positive, while as of Tuesday of this week, 16 of the 160 who reached Israel were declared ill, too. Although since then their number has almost certainly jumped, neither Shavei Israel, the Jerusalem-based organization responsible for their Aliyah, nor Israel’s Ministries of Immigration or Health, have released new figures.
From all indications, the infection was contracted in Manipur by at least one family of the 275 before the group left last week for New Delhi, from which it was scheduled to continue in its entirety to Israel. In New Delhi, the virus spread quickly. Although all of the group was supposedly tested for it with negative results before departing from Manipur, forty of them proved to be virus-positive when tested again in the Indian capital prior to their flight to Israel. These forty remained behind in New Delhi, along with close family that decided to stay with them, when the rest of the immigrants traveled to Israel on May 31.
Now, our Newsletter has learned, the number of B’nei Menashe sick in New Delhi, all apparently with the virulent Indian strain of the virus, has more than doubled. Those known to be infected were immediately transferred from the hotel in which they had been staying to the Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur Covid Care Centre, a quarantine station run by the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Managing Committee, a charitable organization run by New Delhi’s Sikh religious community. The Sikh have traditionally engaged in widespread humanitarian work in India that has always been made available, the committee’s president Manjinder Singh Sirsa told our Newsletter, to “all faith and creeds.”
Passing the time at the center
Although the Care Centre is has a staff of forty doctors and nurses and is equipped with oxygen and emergency facilities, it is not designed to handle serious cases, and six B’nei Menashe, we were informed by the Managing Committee's chairman Bhupinder Singh Bhullar, have had to be transferred to New Delhi’s Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital after developing severe symptoms such as shortness of breath. As of this Thursday, Chairman Bhullar reported, all were out of danger and doing well.
Meanwhile, cases of Covid19 have also broken out among the supposedly Covid-free B’nei Menashe who flew to Israel and are now staying at the Jerusalem Gate Hotel. As stated above, up-to-date figures on the number of those currently sick are unavailable, and there appears to be a total blackout on information regarding them.
Why Covid-positive B’nei Menashe were able or permitted to fly from Manipur to New Delhi in the first place is unclear. Ohaliav Haokip, general secretary of the B’nei Menashe Council, has stated that he was told before the group’s departure from Manipur by Shavei Israel administrator Shlomo Kipgen that Shavei planned to test the olim by means of privately acquired RT-PCR (Rapid Test-Polymerase Chain Reaction) kits administered under medical supervision. In Churachandpur, from which the great majority of the olim came, the supervisor, according to a WhatsApp posting by Shavei activist Yitzhak Seimang Haokip, was Dr. Hegin Kipgen. Yet Dr. Kipgen himself, in a conversation with our Newsletter, denied that he was involved in the procedure and claims to have had nothing to do with it.
RT-PCR kits, which are said to yield results within 48 to 72 minutes, are currently in widespread use in India and can indeed be bought on the private market. However, they are not considered as reliable as standard laboratory tests, and in any case, their findings need to be certified by more than an ordinary physician in order to be valid for official purposes. “The certification must come,” a high Churachandpur police official told B’nei Menashe Council chairman Lalam Hangshing, “from a competent government-approved authority. It can’t just be from any doctor.”
Thus far, Shavei Israel has refused to disclose how testing was done in Manipur or to produce any documentation of it. “The entire incident,” Hangshing wrote in a June 2 letter to Israel’s Minister of Immigration and Absorption Penina Tamano-Shata, “was handled in a most reckless, negligent, and irresponsible manner” and may have involved “faked or unreliable Covid [test] results.”
Further inquiry, preferably undertaken by the governments of India and Israel, may determine what actually happened.