Israel Mulling Creating More Restricted Areas in Towns Hit by Coronavirus Outbreaks

So far, only the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak has been put under closure

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A street leading to the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak blocked by security forces, on April 3, 2020.
A street leading to the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak blocked by security forces, on April 3, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

The Health Ministry is discussing imposing a closure on communities and neighborhoods with a particularly large spike in coronavirus cases, following the closure placed on the primarily ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on Friday. Candidates being considered for closure include Elad, Modi’in Ilit, Mea She’arim in Jerusalem and Haredi areas in Ashkelon, Beit Shemesh, Migdal Ha’emek and Tiberias.

Nearly 8,000 Israelis have so far tested positive for the coronavirus. As of Saturday, there were 184 COVID-19 patients in Ashkelon, compared to just 15 around 10 days ago. Migdal Ha’emek had 96, up from 6, and Tiberias had 96, up from 9 about a week and a half ago.

Israeli border police officers block a road Bnei Brak, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel, on Friday, April 3, 2020.  Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

The number of people in predominantly Haredi areas continued to rise. In Bnei Brak, 162 new COVID-19 patients were added to the rolls, for a total of 1,192, a rise of 15.5 percent since Friday. In Jerusalem, 135 new patients brought the city’s total to 1,253 (12 percent rise), while Betar Ilit had 18 new patients and 81 in all, with a jump of 28 percent since Friday. In Modi’in Ilit, 19 new patients brought the total to 111, while in Elad 11 new patients brought its total to 129. In Beit Shemesh, the total rose to 135, with 14 new patients.

The greatest rise over the weekend, however, was in the Arab town of Jisr al-Zarqa, which saw seven new patients for a total of 10. There were eight new patients in Rekhesim (26 in all), 13 in Or Yehuda (82), 18 in Ashdod (128) and 19 in Petah Tikva (157).

While the increase in the number of patients in all of these communities were in the double and (in the case of Jisr al-Zarqa) even triple digits, in Ramat Gan and in Tel Aviv the number of new patients over the weekend rose by just 9 and 5 percent, respectively, to 119 and 363 in all.

On Thursday the cabinet passed a resolution that established a ministerial committee with the authority to declare an area a restricted zone as part of the effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Any such decisions are expected to be made in practice by the prime minister, who will chair the new committee, in coordination with the National Security Council.

A document drawn up by an advisory council composed of officials from organizations that include the Health Ministry, the army, the Prime Minister’s Office and Magen David Adom also mentioned the communities of Carmiel and Sderot as well as the West Bank settlements of Efrat and Kochav Ya’akov as possible candidates for restricted-zone status, in addition to the communities mentioned above.

In its recommendations, the National Information and Knowledge Center for the Fight Against the Coronavirus said preparations should be made to extend extensive aid of the type being given to Bnei Brak also to the settlements of Elad and Modi’in Ilit and to badly affected neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem.

The focus should be “on disseminating information and on wide testing in [the Haredi settlements of] Betar Ilit and Rekhesim and on rapid action to stop the spread in Tiberias, Ashkelon, Migdal Ha’emek, Carmiel, Sderot, Kochav Ya’akov and Efrat,” the document said.

On Saturday, Interior Ministry Director General Mordechai Cohen asked the mayors of Ashdod, Beit Shemesh, Betar Ilit, Bnei Brak, Elad, Jerusalem, Modi’in Ilit and Rekhesim to establish a “war room” in each community that will be in charge of removing coronavirus patients from their homes and placing them in facilities operated by the army’s Home Front Command.

Each such war room is to comprise one senior municipal official, the head of the city’s welfare department and one representative each from the Home Front Command and the health care system. “In light of the complex reality, particularly as the Passover holiday approaches,” these war rooms must be established immediately, without waiting for every position to be filled, Cohen wrote.

According to an agreement between the interior and health ministries, a coronavirus patient can be transferred to an isolation facility on the orders of any administrative authority, without the need for the approval of a physician or the patient’s health insurance company.

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