Israel Police and the IDF are gearing up to enact military-enforced closures on more haredi (ultra-Orthodox) cities and neighborhoods, at the request of the Health Ministry. The move comes just days after the government approved such a closure on Bnei Brak, a haredi city of 200,000, and as the number of cases of coronavirus infection in Israel surged to 7,851.
Among the places under discussion are Elad, Modi’in Illit, Migdal Ha’emek and several haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. At the ministry’s request, government officials are scheduled to convene and make a final decision about any new closures by Sunday.
Jerusalem, home to close to one million people, has the highest rate of infection in the country, with 1,132 people as of Friday.
Currently there are 120 cases of coronavirus in Elad, a city of 46,760 people, according to the Health Ministry. Beit Shemesh has 118 cases out of 120,812 people, Migdal Ha’emek has 82 out of 26,058, and Modi’in Illit has 91 out of a population of 73,808.
The government is also considering placing closures on at least two secular cities, Channel 12 reported: Ashkelon, which has 170 cases in the city of 139,032 and Tiberias, which has 83 cases in the city of 44,353.
More than 1,000 police began enforcing a lockdown on Bnei Brak on Friday, setting up roadblocks at all entrances and exits to the city to contain the spread of the deadly fast-spreading virus. Residents are banned from leaving except under special circumstances.
According to reports, police are using drones and other monitoring methods to enforce the lockdown.
Bnei Brak has more coronavirus cases per capita than any other city in Israel, according to the Health Ministry. On Friday, 1,061 residents were diagnosed with the virus there – up 513 people in the last three days.
At a meeting of the Knesset coronavirus committee last week, Maccabi Health Services CEO Prof. Ran Saar said that his fund handles the healthcare of half of the city’s residents and, “according to various indications, about 38% of the residents of Bnei Brak are ill, which is 75,000 people.”Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion denied that such a decision would be made. He said that he opposed it, because it would cause unnecessary panic and discriminate against haredim.
Despite the latest restrictions, one resident who tested positive for coronavirus was found on Thursday night staying at Bnei Brak’s Ponevezh Yeshiva with another 16 men in order to pray. Police intervened.
Then, on Friday night, the police were forced to crack down Jerusalem’s haredi Mea She’arim neighborhood. Police reported that dozens of people there were violating the Health Ministry’s social distancing regulations. When approached, many people threw stones at the police.
Police used stun grenades to deal with the disturbances and arrested 10 suspects. In addition, 30 fines were written to people who did not keep to the strict laws and health regulations.
ZAKA Search and Rescue volunteers also reported visiting the homes of more than 60 confirmed coronavirus cases among haredi communities during this Shabbat in order to ensure they immediately self-isolate, after they did not answer the phone call from the Health Ministry to confirm that they have the virus.
Police said they also had to crack down on more than 50 people who did not obey Health Ministry guidelines and arrived at the beach on Saturday.
These violations come as the number of seriously ill and dead continues to climb. As of Saturday night, 126 people are in serious condition, including 108 who are breathing with ventilators.
Eight more people died over the weekend and another person Sunday morning, bringing the country’s coronavirus death toll to 45. These latest victims come on the backdrop of what was the most deadly day so far for coronavirus in the country: On Thursday, 10 people passed away from the disease.
The Health Ministry has been working to increase testing across the country and especially in potentially problematic towns and cities to help understand the scope of the country’s challenge. In the last two weeks, testing has increased from an average of 1,000 tests per day to 3,000, then 5,000 and ultimately close to 8,000 tests per day. The goal, according to the government, is to reach 30,000 people screened per day.
However, on Friday, the Health Ministry was forced to narrow the criteria for being tested, reporting a shortage of reagents (the chemical compound used for coronavirus testing).
The new guidelines explain that if one is suffering from a temperature above 38° Celsius, a cough, difficulty breathing, or any other respiratory symptoms that correspond to the virus, the person may only be screened if he or she has spent time abroad or in the Palestinian territories in the 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms.
As for asymptomatic cases, one is only eligible to be tested if he or she has stayed in the vicinity of a confirmed coronavirus patient for over 15 minutes or has returned from a country with a high rate of COVID-19 infections.
OF THE nine people who died over the weekend and Sunday morning, four were former residents of the Mishan senior living facility in Beersheba, raising the total number of residents who died of the virus to six.
Moreover, there are at least four people diagnosed with the virus at the Mishan senior living facility in Holon and several more at complexes in Rishon Lezion and Bat Yam, media reported. Channel 12 noted that despite the infections in the Holon center, residents say that no one is in isolation.
Israel’s nursing homes have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus. Scores of residents have been infected, at least 10 have died and additional patients remain in serious condition. Last week at a meeting of the Knesset coronavirus task force, Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov said the country has around 26,000 beds in geriatric centers and the people who fill them are at the greatest risk.
“We are trying to bring the Home Front Command into these institutions,” he said. “We requested assistance from the Defense Ministry.”
But the Homefront Command has said it will not be accepting responsibility for the country’s nursing homes, according to Ynet.
"They belong to the Welfare and Health Ministries," Home Front Command Commander Brigadier General Itzik Bar told Ynet. "We do not have nurses... I do not know how to manage a nursing home."
Families and tenants have demanded that all nursing homes be inspected, focusing on those in which patients were already found to be carriers, but so far, tests are being done sparingly.
Among those who passed away Thursday, it was revealed, was Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda (Zalman) Cohen, a 90-year-old rabbi who was considered among the leaders of the Vizhnitz hassidic sect. He was a Holocaust survivor who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald concentration camps.
Assuta Ashdod Medical Center reported Friday that the 22-year-old who was in serious condition has further deteriorated. Anesthetized and ventilated, he has been transferred from Assuta to Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.
The country is working to increase its supply of ventilators to treat the sickest people as well as protective gear to ensure that medical personnel will be safe when helping these patients. As of Friday, 2,874 medical professionals were in isolation, including 1,224 who were infected.
Worldwide, more than 1,170,150 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to the World Health Organization, including more than 64,000 deaths.
SPEAKING AT a press briefing Friday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom called on all countries “to ensure core public health measures are fully funded, including case-finding, testing, contact tracing, collecting data and communication and information campaigns.”
He acknowledged that the world is “in a shared struggle to protect both lives and livelihoods,” but confirmed that “the best way for countries to end restrictions and ease their economic effects is to attack the virus, with the aggressive and comprehensive package of measures that we have spoken about many times before: find, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact.
“If countries rush to lift restrictions too quickly,” he cautioned, “the virus could resurge, and the economic impact could be even more severe and prolonged.”
Anna Ahronheim, Tamar Beeri and Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.