Gov't approves night curfew on 40 red cities amid coronavirus spike

Over the weekend, Israel surpassed 1,000 dead from coronavirus.

Israeli border policewomen chat with local residents at the entrance to Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town badly affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bnei Brak, Israel April 3, 2020 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Israeli border policewomen chat with local residents at the entrance to Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish town badly affected by coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Bnei Brak, Israel April 3, 2020
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
The country woke up Sunday believing that at a minimum, eight to 10 of Israel’s “reddest” cities would be locked down by Monday. But amid extreme pressure by the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties, the government approved imposing only “night curfews” on 40 red cities.
The new restrictions, which were voted on by the Ministerial Committee on Declaring Restricted Zones late Sunday, will go into effect on Monday at 7 p.m. and will require businesses to shutter by 7 p.m. every day and forbid people from venturing more than 500 meters from their home between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
The education system would come to a halt, except for preschools and special education. Gatherings will be limited to 10 people in closed spaces, and 20 people in open spaces.
Entering and exiting these cities will be unrestricted.
“Citizens of Israel, I would like to update you on the decision made by the ministerial committee tonight,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Sunday. “In the last day, another 10 cities have been added to the list of red cities and we have already reached 40 red cities. In light of this, the professionals recommended imposing a uniform nightly curfew on all of these cities, and closing the education system in them, in addition to restrictions on gatherings.
“I know that these restrictions are not easy, but in the current situation there is no escape from them,” he continued.
Netanyahu added that health professionals are warning that the death rate could spike at any minute and the healthcare system could collapse.
“Tonight’s decision was considered responsible and realistic,” the prime minister concluded.
The final list of red cities is still unknown, but it is expected to be released Monday morning and should include Beitar Illit, Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak, Daliat al-Carmel, Elad, Emmanuel, Kafr Kassem, Taibe, Tira and Umm el-Fahm. A number of new cities are also under consideration, which is what takes the list from the 30 cities shared last week by the coronavirus cabinet to 40 on Sunday. These include Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kochav Yair, Netivot, Sderot and even Eilat.
The night curfew program is supposed to be in effect for two weeks, but this does not preclude there being a total lockdown over the Rosh Hashanah holiday. The meeting to make that decision is still expected to take place on September 10.
According to reports, Netanyahu told haredim that even if there is a holiday lockdown, they will still be able to pray in synagogues.
The decision to avoid closures came after undue political pressure by the haredim on the prime minister. Netanyahu even pushed off the ministerial meetings to bring together Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas), Housing and Construction Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu for an emergency meeting to discuss alternatives to the closures.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz reacted to the decision to postpone the closure, saying: “The calculation is simple: 3,000 verified coronavirus patients a day is more than a million patients a year. There is no escape from a general closure and immediate and sharp measures, which are the only way to dramatically reduce the number of patients.”
Earlier Sunday, several haredi mayors sent a scathing letter to Netanyahu informing him that they would not cooperate with a closure.
“As the one who managed the crisis, you never bothered to hear our voice, understand our hardships or try to promote real initiatives that could flatten the curve,” the mayors wrote in a direct attack against the prime minister.
They told him that he never bothered to come visit them or to send someone who effectively represented him. Instead, you chose “straw men such as project managers... while you are the man who decides fates. The voice is your voice; the decisions are yours as the one who leads, guides and decides.”
The mayors added that while previous closures have been ineffective, this one will be even worse since it is before the High Holy Days.
“With pain and restrained rage, we see day after the day how the honor of the great men of the Torah, the life of the Torah... are trampled on by you in an unparalleled way,” they continued. “We hereby announce that we will stop cooperating with the various authorities regarding the lockdown.”
The letter came only hours after Gamzu arrived Sunday morning to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to defend his traffic light program and discuss what it will look like in the “red cities” that were expected to be locked down. That meeting also ended with no resolution, only an agreement to meet Monday at 9 a.m. to resume discussions.
During that meeting, Gamzu said he feels like he is being “attacked with artillery” for trying to cure the country of the novel coronavirus, which will likely involve closures of cities with high infection rates.
In one of his most impassioned speeches, Gamzu appealed to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and haredi Knesset members, stating that the “upcoming High Holy Days are terrifying” and that a nationwide closure is still on the table, though he does not want to think that way.
“Some people say he’s crazy,” Gamzu said of how people refer to him. “How does one catch coronavirus from school? How does he come up with this traffic light plan?
“Well, at the end of the day, the responsibility lies with me,” Gamzu said. “I see the struggling society, the people who want to return to their normal lives, whose businesses have collapsed.
“Of course, I see Arab society and the ultra-Orthodox.”
He said part of the problem is that the country has not addressed these communities for years and that coronavirus is attacking sectors of Israel that were already in difficult socioeconomic situations.
“It is in front of my eyes,” he continued. “I am not exactly looking to make it more difficult for these places.”
Gamzu reminded those present that he is trying to stave off a total, nationwide lockdown. He said that there are those who say he will have no choice.
“We must bite our lips and try to distance ourselves from this,” he said, noting the deplorable economic impact this could have on the country.
“I am fired at with artillery,” he claimed. “You have never seen anything like it… [Sensitive people] could not stand-up to it… Others would not stand for it.
“It’s organized and it’s meant to weaken me,” he added.
But he said he will not walk away so easily.
He made it clear that the reason he is considering locking down Bnei Brak is not because he doesn’t have faith in the mayor or the residents, but because the infection rate is too high. It is because students went back to school on the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul and because of the many yeshivas.
“Until 10 days ago, I said, ‘Walla! Bnei Brak is functioning OK.’ I visited there; I said, ‘Well done.’ But in the last 10 days, I have been uncomfortable. Understand this: It is not a punishment.”
Today, he said, the country stands at around 44,000 tests per day. By November 1, that number will be 60,000 and soon after 100,000 tests per day. But he said it is not just about the number of tests; by winter, the goal has to be no more than hundreds of sick patients per day.
Over Shabbat, some 1,523 people were diagnosed with coronavirus – 9.5% of those screened. Until recently, only around 8% of people tested positive. Another 954 were diagnosed between midnight and press time on Sunday.
A total of 447 people were in serious condition, including 127 who were intubated. Three people died Sunday, bringing the death toll to 1,012.