Netanyahu: Near closure on Bnei Brak to stop coronavirus pandemic

Six more dead • Over 6,000 infected • Citizens asked to wear masks in public

Magen David Adom workers and Shaarei tsedek hospital medical team, wearing protective clothing, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus seen after evacuating a man with suspicion for Coronavirus at the new coronavirus unit at Shaarei Tsedek hospital in Jerusalem on March31, 2020. (photo credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)
Magen David Adom workers and Shaarei tsedek hospital medical team, wearing protective clothing, as a preventive measure against the coronavirus seen after evacuating a man with suspicion for Coronavirus at the new coronavirus unit at Shaarei Tsedek hospital in Jerusalem on March31, 2020.
(photo credit: NATI SHOCHAT/FLASH 90)
After days of debate about how to handle the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, where the coronavirus has rapidly spread, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov announced Wednesday that access to and from the city will be restricted beginning immediately.
“There has been a very positive shift in the ultra-Orthodox public,” the prime minister said, noting that in recent days the haredi community has recognized the danger that it is in and is working to follow the guidelines set forth by the Health Ministry. “But unfortunately, in some places, the disease has already spread at double the rate of the rest of the country and continues to double.”
On Wednesday, 723 residents of the town of 195,298 people were infected with coronavirus, and health officials have predicted that if the trend in Bnei Brak continues, as many as 1,500 residents will be sick with coronavirus by next week, among them as many 60 to 80 people in serious condition within the next two months.
The Mayor of Bnei Brak, Abraham Rubinstein, commended the decision to not put the city under full lock down: "I commend the decision not to put the city of Bnei Brak under full lockdown and balance the lives of its people and the need to maintain their health in this already crowded city" he said, according to walla.
Netanyahu added that those residents of the city who need to go into quarantine will be accommodated in coronavirus hotels so that they do not infect others.
“It's tough, but it's for the health of the residents,” Netanyahu said.
At the same time, two new restrictions were rolled out to the general population by the prime minister. First, citizens are being asked to wear masks when walking around in public spaces.
Bar Siman Tov explained that since the World Health Organization declared that the novel coronavirus may be spread as an airborne aerosol, like SARS, he believes that wearing a nose and mouth covering could help stop the disease from spreading. Surgical masks will not be required, he said, but any kind of covering that can be designed at home will work.
Second, any Israeli returning to the country will now be required to go directly into isolation at a coronavirus hotel for 14 days.
“In difficult times, people come home, and Israel is home,” Netanyahu said.
He did announce that there would be some new benefits for the public, however, to help them get through these difficult times. These include gifting NIS 500 per child up to four children to families before Passover, as well as providing the same amount to senior citizens. The money will be deposited directly into people’s bank accounts.
The prime minister also said that the country was lowering the age for self-employed workers to access grants from 28 to 20.
Finally, Netanyahu reminded the public that they should celebrate their Passover Seders at home this year with only their nuclear families: “A small Seder is a safe Seder,” he said.
The briefing came against the backdrop of a sharp spike in sick people. Israel surpassed the 6,000 mark on Wednesday: 6,092 Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus, and 26 people have succumbed to the disease, according to the Health Ministry.
All six of Wednesday’s victims had preexisting medical conditions: a 66-year-old and a 74-year-old man who were hospitalized at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon; a 66-year-old woman who was treated at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer; a 69-year-old woman and a 72-year-old who both died at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem; and a 98-year-old woman at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. The latter was the second victim from the Mishan Geriatric Center in Beersheba, where several residents and members of staff were found to test positive to the virus in the past few days.
Of those infected, 95 are in serious conditions, with 81 of them intubated and 663 people are hospitalized.
The number of medical staff currently in quarantine went down from 3,498 to 3,201, including 701 doctors and 1,138 nurses. The ministry announced that it gave licenses to practice to 900 new nurses through an accelerated procedure to help fill a much-needed void.
THE POLICE continue to crack down on those who do not follow the government’s orders. So far, the police have performed over 62,000 checks on people in quarantine to ensure that they respect the regulation, including more than 5,000 on Wednesday. Moreover, 135 investigations have been opened against people who broke the quarantine, while over 5,800 fines have been given for breaking coronavirus-related regulations.

A protest erupted on Yefet Street in Tel Aviv-Jaffa on Wednesday after police arrested a man who allegedly violated the quarantine orders, police reported, adding that the man was aided by family members and other men who arrived with stones and sticks with the intention of confronting the security forces. Four men were arrested, and the violator was fined for breaking the Health Ministry regulations. The street is in the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa, where many Arab-Israelis reside.

Israel is currently performing around 7,000 tests a day. In the morning, the Health Ministry declared that several testing centers managed by health funds would open in Arab towns around the country as well as in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, something that was rolled out the day before in some haredi neighborhoods. Moreover, according to the Jerusalem Municipality, MDA is going to open a drive-through testing station in east Jerusalem. New drive-through testing stations were opened today also in Ashdod and Rahat.
While "rescue flights" to repatriate Israeli nationals abroad continue in accordance with requests made by the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry, El Al said that it would continue to ground all scheduled flights to and from Israel until May 2, extending a decision made last week.
The across-the-board cancellations, originally announced until April 4, followed a sharp decline in demand, concern for passenger and staff health, and the need to reduce expenditures until the outbreak subsides.
As of Wednesday afternoon, over 878,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus across the world and over 43,000 have died.