Israel Weighs Imposing Closure on Arab Town After Spike in Coronavirus Infections

Outbreak at large slaughterhouse in Galilee reportedly followed visit of kashrut supervisor

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A police checkpoint in Deir al-Asad, April 15, 2020.
A police checkpoint in Deir al-Asad, April 15, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

The Health Ministry is considering imposing a closure on the Arab town of Deir al-Asad after a spike in corona infections linked to a local slaughterhouse.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Galilee community jumped from five to 23 on Wednesday, and to a total of 31 including the neighboring villages Nahaf, Beineh and Majdal Krum. The residents of all these villages have been urged to stay home, while most entrances to Deir al-Asad and Beineh were cordoned off to outsiders.

Arab communities were not covered by the Passover closure imposed until Thursday morning.

The outbreak in Deir al-Asad reportedly followed a visit by a kashrut supervisor who came into contact with workers at the slaughterhouse, which is one of the largest in the country.

Those who have tested positive for the virus in this area may have come into contact with hundreds of other people, according to epidemiological tests by the ministry. One of the infected individuals was at a funeral last week, said the local council head, Ahmed Dabbah.

A few days ago Dabbah urged anyone who had come in contact with the kashrut monitor at the village’s slaughterhouse to isolate themselves. Dabbah told Haaretz that after consultations with the ministry and other authorities it was decided to isolate all confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the area to a hotel, and to rent space in another hotel to accommodate additional patients requiring isolation.

The possibility of imposing a closure on Deir al-Asad and Beineh from Thursday evening through Sunday was also discussed during the consultations.

Dabbah said movement inside the village was being curtailed. “The Health Ministry proposed a closure order and if necessary we would not oppose it because safeguarding the good health of residents is the most important thing.”

Many of the area’s residents were tested for the virus in stations set up near Deir al-Asad and are awaiting results.

Joint List lawmaker Ahmad Tibi said a drive-thru testing station would immediately be opened in the area.

Grocery distribution in Deir al-Asad, April 15, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

Attorney Rim Asadi, a member of the village council, told Haaretz that nobody in the community needs to be isolated. “We don’t know who should be quarantined and who shouldn’t, that’s very worrisome,” Asadi said. She urged the authorities to intervene right away and decide who requires isolation.The local government heads in Beineh and nearby Majdal Krum also urged immediate action to prevent a further spread of the virus.

Moshe Kuninsky, the mayor of nearby Karmiel, said roadblocks had been placed at that city’s entrances in preparation for a possible curfew on Deir al-Asad. The legal department of Adalah, an Arab human rights organization, has for weeks warned about the lack of access in Arab communities to coronavirus testing stations, particularly in the Galilee, Negev and center of the country. Last week the organization urged the authorities to set up testing centers for communities near the northern border.

The ministry replied that drive-thru centers would be opened in Tarshiha and Rameh and elsewhere in the northern Galilee, and that the ministry was handing over responsibility for testing to the region’s HMOs.

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