Israel Imposes Coronavirus Intercity Travel Ban Ahead of Passover Holiday

The measures will take effect on Tuesday at 7 P.M and last until Friday at 6 A.M., with curfew starting on Wednesday at 3 P.M.

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Police in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak.
Police in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, April 5, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

The Israeli government approved on Tuesday a general closure across the country to contain the spread of the coronavirus, which will bar Israelis from leaving the community where they reside, other than in exceptional circumstances, such as the need for urgent medical care.

>> Explained: Israel's toughest coronavirus restrictions so far

Intercity travel is banned from Tuesday at 4 P.M. until Friday at 6 A.M.., and all public transportation services are suspended as of Tuesday at 8 P.M.

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In addition, a curfew will be imposed on Wednesday at 3 P.M. until Thursday at 7 A.M., limiting Israelis to 100-meter (about 330 feet) radius of their home. This coincides with the Passover seder, which authorities implored Jews to celebrate at home, rather than with their families.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the proposed measures on Monday. They were initially meant to be voted on by the cabinet overnight, but the vote was postponed until Tuesday afternoon over disagreements on the exact details. 

Netanyahu added that the country is preparing to exit the current crisis scenario, saying that there is a realistic possibility restrictions will begin to be eased after Passover. 

The latest restrictions are an additional effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Israel during a week when, under normal circumstances, Israelis would be taking to the roads for the Passover seder on Wednesday night and for holiday travel during the duration of the holiday.

Few people are likely to be affected by a new cabinet decision of this nature, however, unless they had wanted to go to a supermarket beyond the confines of their own communities, because even now, people who aren’t commuting to work are generally restricted to 100 meters from home other than to buy food or medicine or to seek medical attention.

The cabinet decided to consider imposing the nationwide pre-holiday travel ban even though both  Netanyahu and his national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, favored only prohibiting travel in and out of towns with a high incidence of the coronavirus, which in practice largely means ultra-Orthodox communities. The more wide-ranging proposal was made after a number of mayors objected to singling out particular towns and after the two ultra-Orthodox ministers in the cabinet, Interior Minister Arye Dery and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, concurred in the objection.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday night that was conducted by phone, Netanyahu reported that there has been an overall decline in the coronavirus infection rate but that in certain areas, infection rates were very high. For that reason, he had proposed tighter restrictions in those areas alone. National Security Adviser Ben-Shabbat agreed with him, saying that different locations required different tactics to contain the virus.

In another development Sunday, police began erecting roadblocks at the entrance to Jerusalem, an operation that is expected to be ongoing until Passover begins on Wednesday evening to prevent people from traveling for the holiday. Roadblocks were also erected at the Hemed interchange of the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway and at the entrance to Beit Shemesh, causing traffic tie-ups.

Similar roadblocks were slated to be established at the entrance to other cities on Monday in an operation is to reach its peak on Tuesday and continue until the holiday begins, amid plans to significantly increase the police presence on the ground.

“The aim is for the roads to be completely empty,” said Chief Superintendent Shelly Shaul, who heads the traffic police operations department. “Anyone who thinks they will manage to get avoid us should know that at some point, they will encounter the police and won’t just get a fine, but will also be sent back home.”

On Tuesday, police are set to deploy at exits and entrances to cities and neighborhoods and on intercity highways. Every police officer will be accompanied by a military police officer, which will double the enforcement presence on the roads. Police will also make use of municipal security cameras, as well as drones, to enforce the ban on leaving home.

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