Bnei Brak Lockdown Extended; Virus Cases in Israel Up 3 Percent and 101 People Have Died

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A man buys eggs in Bnei Brak during the closure of the city, April 10, 2020
A man buys eggs in Bnei Brak during the closure of the city, April 10, 2020Credit: Ofer Vaknin

A ministerial committee tasked with defining restricted areas within the country decided on Friday to extend the closure on Bnei Brak for another five days, with a few exemptions: The closure will stay in place until Tuesday, but residents will be permitted to leave the city for work purposes. Police officers will continue to man roadblocks at entry and exit points and along major thoroughfares.

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On Friday the coronavirus regulations for the rest of Israel returned to what they had been before stricter rules were enacted for the start of the Passover holiday.

As of Saturday, 10,743 Israelis have tested positive for the coronavirus, a 3.2 percent increase over the past day. Of them, 101 people have died, including six on Saturday. Another 175 are in serious condition; this includes 129 who are on ventilators, an increase of five for the day. Another 1,341 Israelis have recovered, including 158 of them in the past day.

According to the committee’s announcement, residents will be allowed to leave Bnei Brak for work, essential medical services, funerals of first-degree relatives, taking minors to a parent who shares custody, or other essential needs that will require pre-approval.

The decision was based on a lower rate of coronavirus infections in Bnei Brak, a mostly ultra-Orthodox city, in the last few days, said a source with knowledge of the situation. The city’s municipality said the decision was helped along in a conversation between Mayor Avraham Rubinstein and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ministerial committee.

“There is a desire to broadcast to the city that it behaved well on the evening of the seder,” said the source, adding that the real test for residents will come on Monday and Tuesday, ahead of the second Passover seder. According to the city’s official figures, 250 infected residents went into isolation in designated hotels and boarding schools outside the city. The municipality believes that more residents will want to follow suit.

This week, 1,500 Bnei Brak residents will be tested for the virus. They were chosen at random, including people not showing any symptoms or not having been exposed to anyone confirmed to have the virus. Their ages range from 20 to 65, and they received notification asking them to come to four designated testing locations in the city. They will receive their results within a few days of testing. No further testing is planned for now.

So far, tests have been conducted only on people who had come into contact with those confirmed to have COVID-19, or those who developed symptoms. No random check of the population had been done, and this week’s sampling should give authorities a more precise picture of the spread of the virus among the city’s residents.

The testing initiative is led by the Weizmann Institute, Prof. Amnon Shashua, an adviser to the prime minister, and Kama-Tech, a company established to help integrate the ultra-Orthodox population into the world of high-tech. Kama-Tech says that the objective is to create a national strategy for emerging from the crisis. It received the blessing of a prominent ultra-Orthodox leader, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky. Those heading the initiative believe that sample testing will allow parts of the economy to return a working mode while leaving at-risk groups, including people over 65, in isolation. In addition to the Bnei Brak plan, the Weizmann Institute will begin conducting 1,000 tests a day after signing an agreement with the Health Ministry.

As part of the fight against the virus, Turkey is supplying Israel with medical equipment. An official source in Ankara told the Bloomberg network that the Turkish government approved the sale of the equipment, which includes masks, protective suits and sterile gloves, for humanitarian reasons, adding that Israel is expected to allow the transfer of similar equipment to the Palestinian Authority without delays.

The government approved under emergency regulations to extend a curfew on several neighborhoods in Jerusalem exhibiting a high coronavirus infection rate until Wednesday.The curfew extension will go into effect on Sunday at 12:00 P.M in areas of Jerusalem, which has the highest number of coronavirus patients in Israel.

In the meantime, the National Insurance Institute announced that on Sunday more than 1.2 million families will receive an allowance of 500 shekels ($140) for every child who is under 18, up to four children. This will apply to babies born up to April 15. The entire amount to be paid is 1.4 billion shekels.

The Palestinian Health Ministry announced on Saturday that another person has tested positive for the coronavirus in the West Bank – a 60-year-old woman from a village near Jerusalem. As of Saturday, the numbers of infected people in the West Bank and Gaza were 255 and 13, respectively.

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