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Kramer quits COVID advisory over “community flouting protocols”

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One of the community’s top COVID-19 advisors this week lashed out at the community for flouting rules and putting lives at risk. Professor Efraim Kramer said he could no longer contribute to the safety of the community during the pandemic in light of this brazen behaviour.

“In a nutshell, I’m fed up,” Kramer told the SA Jewish Report. He said while the first surge “brought out the best in the community”, the second wave “brought out the worst in us”. His frustration has been mounting for some weeks in light of the number of deaths in the community. Last week, two members of his family passed away from COVID-19.

“I don’t care if I upset people. My aim is just to save lives. I don’t want to implicate anybody. The final straw came this week when President Cyril Ramaphosa allowed faith gatherings to take place, and people went to shul the next day. Where was the consultation? No meetings were held on how best to re-open shuls.”

Kramer is the head of the Division of Emergency Medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), and Professor of Sports Medicine at Pretoria University. He has specialised in emergency medicine for 30 years, and was FIFA’s tournament medical officer at the Soccer World Cup in 2018. Along with other experts, he has advised the office of the chief rabbi on matters related to COVID-19 and shuls.

“I have written at least eight different protocols for things like weddings, Barmitzvahs, yom tov [gatherings], and shuls and it seems that everyone is doing what they like,” he said. “Come December, in the middle of a raging pandemic, people got in their cars or on flights and headed straight for hotspots. They flew home knowing they were infected. The results have been devastating, people have died. We’ve done this to ourselves. We’re doing it to our own.”

He said the communal leadership was “paralysed”. In a strongly worded message he sent to Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein and members of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues, he wrote, “Please note, with regret, that I have withdrawn from all community COVID-19 commitments and communications due to the total disregard and ignoring of the various safety protocols developed for the shuls and the community by many. I will no longer consult on any COVID-19 issue because it generally amounts to nothing as most people are still intent on doing their own thing anyway, in spite of advice to the contrary. But then, who am I to give advice anyway.”

Kramer said he had received countless complaints from members of the community afraid to attend large simchas which had been taking place “as if things are normal”. On Wednesday, he received another complaint from a community member who lamented that while a caterer was following protocols, guests were dancing, hugging, and behaving as if it was a pre-COVID-19 wedding.

“I drive past a shul every day and see countless cars outside. There have been minyanim taking place. The shuls have relaxed their protocols. I went into a bakery last week, and things were haywire. People were on top of each other using the same tongs and there was no safe distancing. It was a disgrace. As a doctor, I can’t fight this anymore. I’m going back to hospitals where at least the patients appreciate what I’m doing.

“While many people are being very careful, there are those who don’t care about the next guy. They think they are ‘holier than thou’ and Hashem will listen to their prayers. When you add up all the incidences, you get a picture of a community that doesn’t care for one another anymore. And where is the leadership when this is happening? How come nothing was said when shuls continued to open when it was against the law to do so and unsafe?”

Barry Schoub, emeritus professor in virology at Wits and the former director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said, “This is very disappointing news. Professor Kramer has been an absolutely invaluable member of our community medical advisory team and has devoted an incredible amount of his time and energy in drawing up protocols, inspecting shuls, and looking after the safety of functions. He is an international authority on mass gatherings and has world-class credentials which have been so valuable in managing the COVID-19 epidemic. I’m sad at the decision he has taken, but I do understand the intense frustration he is feeling at the attitudes he has come across in a small minority of our community and the disregarding of protocols to safeguard our community by a small minority of shuls and minyanim.”

Leading pulmonologist Dr Carron Zinman said she understood Kramer’s frustration. “We’re all frustrated by people’s complete disregard for safety protocols as it’s so simple to follow the rules. We’re absolutely exhausted, and are tired of watching people struggle for each and every breath knowing that they should have worn a mask/should have kept a safe distance/should have avoided the gathering, and could have avoided getting COVID-19. You realise that you can give the same advice till you’re blue in the face, and people will choose to do what they want. We don’t act as judge, and never compromise our standard of care, going all out to fight for our patients’ lives.”

Said Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein, “I was disappointed and surprised to receive Professor Kramer’s resignation on the eve of the president’s announcement allowing for the reopening of shuls, which have been closed for more than a month. I have asked to meet with Professor Kramer to understand his specific concerns because the reports I have received since the reopening of our shuls in August 2020 indicate that the overwhelming majority of shuls have been outstanding and totally dedicated to the implementation of the health and safety protocols drafted by our full medical team.

“As a community, we will continue to be guided by Professor Barry Schoub and Dr Richard Friedland, who remain on our medical team, as we go forward to ensure the highest standards of safety for our community. On behalf of our community, I want to thank Professor Kramer for his months of tireless volunteer work to train and prepare our shuls to function safely in this pandemic.”

Wendy Kahn, the executive director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, said, “We have no knowledge about Professor Kramer’s resignation or the reasons for it. We commend him for his amazing contribution to our community.”

Rabbi Yossi Chaikin, the chairperson of the South African Rabbinical Association, said he was “shocked, surprised, and upset” when he received Kramer’s message. “We are so grateful for his service, and he is so respected. He sat with every rabbi and advised us. And even though he was very strict, we listened to him!

“I know that all shuls have followed his protocols with proper distancing, screening, hand sanitising, and masks – this is being enforced. I also know there have been private minyanim not under our jurisdiction where I believe there were minimal to nil protocols. On behalf of the rabbonim and shuls, I say that we are doing the best we can. It’s sad that people have acted this way leading to this decision, but we will continue to be vigilant.”

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Ella Shishler

    Feb 4, 2021 at 10:35 am

    One thing I have observed from Covid. There are the selfless and the selfish. Two distinctly different camps.
    Which camp have you chosen to belong to?

  2. Amos Borochov

    Feb 4, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    The South African Jewish community is behaving the same as the Haredi community in Israel. In Nazi Germany, one of the reasons for hating Jews was the accusation that Jewish people spreading diseases, when I read this article in addition to the news from Israel, I start thinking that it is true.

  3. Marion-Jill Bregman

    Feb 4, 2021 at 12:40 pm

    It’s good that Dr Kramer was able to speak his mind, and rattle any complacency that is developing.

  4. Sybil Gold

    Feb 4, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    There are areas in Israel where the disregard of protocols has been very similar.
    The results have shown a significant increase in Covid positive cases.

  5. Tony Lachman

    Feb 4, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    It appears that the Rabbis try to whitewash the situation when they have shown NO LEADERSHIP. They are too afraid of their congregants to stand up for “pikuach nefesh”. Perhaps they need to be forced to go into the hospitals, emergency rooms and ICUs to watch people struggling for breath and dying alone.Rabbi Chaikin, Chief Orthodox Rabbi Goldstein and leaders of the SAJBD HAVE BEEN DERELICT IN THEIR DUTIES TO STRONGLY support the advice of a person of Prof Kramer and Prof Shoub’s status and devotion to the health of the community.
    It is not surprising because the same is happening in the ultra and regular orthodox community in Israel.
    The most distressing issue is that they not lnly put their own, their family and friends health at stake but it seriously adversely affect the health care workers who are being sacrificed due to the disregard for basic rules

  6. Jonathan Bloch

    Feb 4, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    Prof Kramer is absolutely correct to in his condemnation of the community behavior.
    And it is too little too late for apologies..since that can’t replace lost lives and bring comfort to the mourners.

  7. David Glasser

    Feb 4, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    I don’t know how people can say “they didn’t know” or “were unaware” or are going to “have a discussion” when in this same newspaper it states “Wedding leads to a number of COVID-19 cases” — EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT IS GOING ON!!
    Behavior is at the root cause of the spread, people think they are so clever (it only takes one person) we each have a responsibility to protect the community NO EXCUSES!!
    My wife is a front line nurse who goes into the war zone EVERY DAY to try and save someone else’s loved one, she sees death every day just because someone did not wear a mask, or someone didn’t care about others!
    I worry every day, will my wife come home safely tonight or will she be contagious, will either or both of us survive this pandemic or will your ongoing stupidity of not wearing a mask because you think your behavior proves you have the bravado to be a fool, this idiotic behavior will ensure that both of us too, will pass away because of your bad behavior? For once, just once think of others and you don’t even have to donate money to think!!
    For once, BEHAVE like a MENSCH (please!)

  8. Felicity Isserow

    Feb 4, 2021 at 6:31 pm

    Saddened to read about Professor Kramer’s resignation. I can understand his frustration with so many selfish people in our Jewish Community doing their own ‘things their way!
    Sure is a loss to our Community.

  9. Bendeta Gordon

    Feb 4, 2021 at 7:46 pm

    I admire Professor Kramer for his decision. He is clearly a man who is clear about what should not happen when facing life and death situations. Community lay leadership and advice is thankless. Voluntary work is not appreciated. Lay leaders who do community work and are driven by true care for their fellow Jews are not given the respect they deserve. Furthermore paid community leaders are often not open to consult and listen to experts. I have personally experienced this in the management of shuls, primary schools and high schools. I absolutely respect this action Professor Kramer. May Hashem bless and protect you and your loved ones!

  10. Eitan

    Feb 7, 2021 at 7:49 pm

    The community Should beg forgiveness and bring him back , the community should say we will do what ever it takes to comply , the dr obviously has his reasons but the heads of the community should be knocking at his door and find out what is going on and why , don’t just leave it like that .

  11. Joel

    Feb 18, 2021 at 10:50 am

    Our community is being very stupid. I got covid-19 in December. Its nothing like flu. Don’t be fooled. You’re absolutely exhausted, you can’t eat, breathing is difficult at times. I couldn’t walk metres without having to sit down.
    I was very blessed to recover but even getting your energy back took time.
    Someone elderly or with comorbidities is really going to struggle with the symptoms. Being healthy is no guarantee to recover either.

    Please everyone take this far more seriously!

  12. yehudah

    Mar 11, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    You people are all insane, we are not Nazi’s spreading disease, how can anyone say it the jews fault cause cause we behave like the Haredi community in Israel, there is nothing you can do to stop this, I have been isolated, with curfews from 8pm where I live, wearing a stupid mask all the time social distant, no work cause everything is closed, shopping online and everything else that they tell us to do, guess what I got covid this week.

  13. Michael Rosenberg

    Mar 16, 2021 at 9:30 am

    I don’t see this as any great loss these Wuhan “experts” have been able to discredit themselves to such an extent that I trust government about as much as they are worthy of my trust. I find it quite interesting how “experts” emerge when there is a crisis. He clearly shows his indignation all the while stroking his own ego. Like many similar “experts” why will he not, clearly quantify the actual death toll due to Wuhan. All “experts” give us the infection rate, really, when did infection rate amount to anything. If you want to be an “expert” why not quantify the effects of imprisonment (lockdown) the destruction of the worlds economy, then compare it to the effects of the Wuhan virus. Why have we suddenly decided that we should wear masks, which are rather ineffective, why don’t we require everyone to walk around in lifejackets. The vast majority of people under 30 have a higher chance of drowning then dying of Wuhan. Why are we still driving as everyone has a much higher chance of dying in a road accident than dying from Wuhan. Why are these “experts” still being relied upon when they are clearly not deserving of trust

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