Coronavirus: Red zones to remain under lockdown

Cities to remain closed through Wednesday at midnight. Preschools to open even in red zones.

Central Jerusalem during the coronavirus pandemic (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Central Jerusalem during the coronavirus pandemic
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
After a debate that took ministers until less than two hours before Shabbat, the coronavirus cabinet on Friday approved the extension of the lockdown on red zones – areas with high infection.
Although the rest of the country will begin emerging from the closure on Sunday, the cities of Beitar Illit, Bnei Brak, Elad, Modi'in Illit, Rehasim and some areas of Jerusalem will remain locked down through Wednesday at midnight. However, the ministers voted to allow preschools to open in those cities. 
"Members of the ministerial committee expressed appreciation for the work of the mayors and residents in the red cities who followed the guidelines and significantly reduced morbidity," a joint statement by the Prime Minister's Office and the Health Ministry read. "In a number of red cities, morbidity remains relatively high in comparison to the national level."
The statement said that over the next several days, the country will work with those cities to reduce the level of infection so that they can open up as well. 
Entry and exit from the cities or neighborhoods will be forbidden except for special education students, at-risk-youth or people in need of social welfare services. 
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu said Friday morning in a statement via his spokeswoman that “in light of the declining trend in morbidity data in the deep red cities, Prof. Gamzu – after consultation with professionals – decided to remove the cities of Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Malachi, as well as a number of Jerusalem neighborhoods, from the list.”
That means that these areas will not be closed down, as originally thought.
Gamzu was also the one who recommended the lockdown only be extended until Wednesday at midnight, estimating that if the trend continues, there will probably be no red cities in Israel by Thursday.
THE MAYORS of the cities opposed extending the closure. For instance, the head of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, Avraham Rubinstein, showed that his city had undergone a significant reduction in morbidity and therefore did not warrant having its closure extended. He also demanded that the education system open. 
The Hebrew website Ynet reported Friday morning that the rate was declining across the country, including in these red zones. Using Health Ministry data, it showed that in Jerusalem, where the most people have been infected to date, only 8.2% of people who were tested in the last seven days were positive.
In Beitar Illit the percentage positive dropped from 24% between October 2-8 to 15% this past week. Also, in Bnei Brak, it dropped from 25% to 13.6%, Ynet showed. 
After the meeting, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said he backed the decision, as it was made "based on the position of the professionals, who emphasized that in recent weeks the majority of the Israeli public, in all sectors, is obeying the guidelines.
"We will not give up. We will continue our efforts so that we can remove the restrictions in the cities that will remain closed for the next few days, according to the data," he concluded.
Gamzu and Maj.-Gen. Ronni Numa, who oversees the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) desk of the Magen Israel program, expressed satisfaction with the decision and said that "a significant change has taken place in the red cities." They called on residents of these cities and their leaders to "continue to be careful about preventing gatherings in the coming days."
DISCUSSION OVER red zones was pushed off on Thursday, due to the likelihood of a blow up between government officials.
Finance Minister Israel Katz said that he would form a special team to provide increased financial assistance to those areas, in order to facilitate their ability to get through the difficult period. 
Regarding “red cities that continue to stay closed, the Interior Ministry will receive a special budget for their needs... beyond the standard aid program,” he said in a statement during the cabinet meeting.
The statement by the Prime Minister's Office and the Health Ministry said that a team of ministers led by Katz would convene on Saturday to determine a list of regulations that would protect workers who live in red zones but work outside of them from being dismissed from their jobs. The team will also examine if these cities require additional aid, through the Home Front Command, the Interior Ministry or both. 
But MK Yakov Asher, who chairs the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee – which will have to approve the exit strategy’s first steps – said he would not approve a special outline for red cities without a convincing plan.
“You cannot just come and lock down a city, put roadblocks around it and go home,” he said in an interview from the Knesset. “People live there, not animals.”
A city’s color is defined based on several factors, including the number and rate of increase of new weekly patients per 10,000 in each authority, the overall rate of infection and how many people test positive out of those who are screened for the virus.
On Friday, Gantz spoke with 40 heads of former red cities that are now green and said, “We will continue to stand by you and make sure you stay green.”
"Health Minister Yuli Edelstein backs coronavirus commissioner Prof. Roni Gamzu," a statement from the ministry said Friday afternoon. "For months, he has been working day and night for the health of all Israeli citizens, regardless of one sector or another."
THE MORBIDITY rate across Israel continues to decline. 
On Thursday, some 1,608 people were diagnosed with the virus, the Health Ministry showed. There were 713 in serious condition, including 247 who were intubated. The death toll stood at 2,128.
Given the lower infection rate, the full ministerial cabinet approved on Friday morning the decisions of the coronavirus cabinet from the night before to launch the first stage of an exit strategy.
Beginning on Sunday, businesses that don’t serve customers, preschools for children ages newborn to six, nature reserves, national parks, beaches, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Temple Mount will open. At the same time, restaurants will be able to serve takeaway, the ban on traveling more than one kilometer from home will be lifted and people will be allowed to visit the homes of their extended family and friends.
Finally, people will be able to gather in groups of 10 inside and 20 outside and professional athletes will be allowed to train.
"This decision is great news for many citizens who are facing many economic challenges following the coronavirus closure," Katz said in a statement. "I have acted and will continue to act as necessary – for business owners, the self-employed and employees – so that the entire economy can return to full activity."
Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy said Friday that the country was moving to reduce the number of coronavirus hotels it is operating. Although families currently in hotels will complete their stay, a letter signed by Health Ministry officials said that the number of sick patients who will be sent to hotels will be reduced and the decision to send them will only be made in exceptional cases.
The hotels are operated by the Home Front Command with the assistance of Magen David Adom. 
Finally, the Israel Police handed out some 3,537 fines to people who broke coronavirus regulations on Thursday.
Some 2,034 of them were given for leaving home for forbidden reasons, 1,307 were imposed for not wearing masks and 60 for breaking quarantine. Another 60 were directed at businesses.
Some 63 people were fined for gathering in places where they are not supposed to be.