Cabinet to lock down 30 ‘red’ cities as virus spikes

Gamzu begs public: ‘Stop insanity – morbidity has risen to another level’ • Edelstein to ‘Post’: Can’t promise total lockdown will be prevented

Inspectors conduct coronavirus tests at a checkpoint in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Inspectors conduct coronavirus tests at a checkpoint in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With the  coronavirus infection rate spiking to unprecedented numbers, the government decided on Thursday to lock down 30 “red” cities and neighborhoods across the country, just short of a nationwide closure.
In these red zones, the coronavirus cabinet ruled, movement will be restricted to 500 meters from home; schools will be closed except for special education and preschools; entry and exit will be banned except for essential workers; and most businesses and retail shops will be closed except for essential services.
The plan is expected to go into effect on Monday.
The list of red cities was released late Thursday night. Although some form of closure will apply to all red cities, the exact restrictions will vary based on each city’s infection level and other factors, and that will be revealed on Sunday.
Among the red cities are: Kuseifa, Kafr Bara, Kiryat Ye’arim, Betar Illit, Bnei Brak, Jaljulya, Deir el-Asad, Hevel Modi’in, Hura, Hazor Haglilit, Kafr Kassem, Modi’in Illit, Meitar and Ma’aleh Iron.
The decision came against the backdrop of a continuously increasing level of infection. Some 3,141 people were diagnosed with the virus on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported Thursday. This is the largest daily increase in cases since the beginning of the pandemic in Israel. In addition, some 1,556 were diagnosed between midnight and press time Thursday night.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told The Jerusalem Post that he was not certain the plan will work and that a general lockdown might still need to be placed on the entire country. In a separate interview with Israeli media he also said that limitations might have to be placed on protests to contain the virus.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu issued an emotional appeal to Israelis on Thursday, urging the public to “stop the insanity” and warning that “the morbidity has risen to another level. It’s very disturbing.”
He said that by ranking localities by their level of infection, the country will be able to direct its intervention to the places that need it most.
Gamzu called out the Arab and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sectors, in which he said the infection rate is spiking. Specifically, he said that there is a strong rise in the level of new patients in haredi areas because of the start of their school year two weeks ago.
“Sometimes I see there is a lack of internalization that a wedding is a contagious event that infects families, a locality and then moves from locality to locality and morbidity grows,” he said.
According to Gamzu, about 28% of infection is in Arab society and 22% is among ultra-Orthodox. He revealed on Wednesday that 80% of new infections are in haredi cities.
Gamzu stressed that being a red city is not an embarrassment, it just means that it is a place that needs intervention and assistance.
In his discussion with the Post, Edelstein said that some of the municipalities will readily accept the decision, as they know they are struggling to contain the virus and want help. Others, he said, will likely push back. In all cases, Israel Police and the Home Front Command will be involved to ensure compliance.
NINE PEOPLE died on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 985. Some 417 patients were in serious condition, including 118 who were intubated.
“For an entire month, we had a high – even very high – but stable level of morbidity,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following the cabinet meeting. “In recent days there has been an increase – and a very dramatic increase yesterday.
“We decided to make an immediate effort to block this increase in morbidity,” he continued. “We made a decision to enact lockdowns on the red cities from which infection is spreading, both within the cities themselves and to the rest of the population of Israel. I request the cooperation of every Israeli citizen in order to block this morbidity. It is important for the health of each and every one of you.”
At the same time, Gamzu, will work together with the ministries of Health, Defense, Internal Security and the Interior as well as the National Security Council to formulate a plan in the event that the country requires additional national restrictions or other restraints.
Not all the ministers were supportive of the plan, however. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that he believes the entire concept of the traffic light program needs to be changed and that the country should shut down now.
“You cannot live alongside the coronavirus before locking down for 10-12 days,” Steinitz said. “The traffic light plan is excellent, but after a closure.”
Interior Minister Arye Deri expressed similar sentiments: “What is the logic to putting a band-aid on and not solving the problem? Let’s lock down and that’s it.”
IN RESPONSE to the cabinet’s decision, Housing and Construction Minister Ya’acov Litzman said he had “firmly opposed” the imposition of closures on red zones, saying it was part of a plan by “some elements” to impose a lockdown over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “something we will not allow in any way.”
The head of the United Torah Judaism Party claimed that lockdowns which are “not focused on specific neighborhoods do not help bring down infections,” saying that they were rather “disproportionate, collective punishment.”
Earlier at the meeting, Litzman accused Gamzu of rolling out the plan in order to ensure closure over the High Holy Days. “You knew we would be opposed to it, so you started already this week,” the minister charged.
He also told Gamzu that he did not want him involved in making decisions about whether thousands of hassidim could travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, a point that became irrelevant late Thursday after the Ukrainian government formally decided that it would not open its borders to visitors on the holiday.
The chairman of the Likud faction in the Bnei Brak municipality, Yaakov Wider, also responded to the decision with harsh words, calling Gamzu “detached from reality.” He said that putting a closure on Bnei Brak would cause a “huge medical and economic disaster for no reason.”
“The previous closure imposed by Minister Litzman on Bnei Brak in the first wave did not stop the disease – on the contrary, it allowed the virus to spread without interference in a huge and crowded city where about a quarter of a million citizens live,” Wider said.
He called on Gamzu to relinquish his powers.
In response to the expected closures on Arab cities, Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said that the number of Arab patients is too high and that the community is doing “everything we can to reduce the number.
“But that’s not why we are racing toward a general closure,” he tweeted, blaming the government for failing to control the crisis.
“No weddings or demonstrations in Jerusalem,” he continued. “We enter the lockdown because of them [the ministers]. We will get out of it thanks to the responsibility that everyone will show toward their families and the public.”
GAMZU’S TRAFFIC light program had already been approved earlier this week by the cabinet. It divides the city into four colors – red, orange, yellow and green – each with their own set of rules and regulations.
Edelstein told the Post that the program is not meant to reduce infection, rather just to manage it from increasing.
“It does not fight coronavirus,” he said.
Each local authority will receive clear instructions regarding how their jurisdiction is to operate based on its level of morbidity.
In green cities, for example, it will be possible to hold prayers and cultural events without food in an outdoor setting with up to 250 people, divided into capsules of 20. And with approval, that number could be increased to as many as 500 people or more.
The red cities will be managed by the Israel Police with the help of the Home Front Command.
Acting Chief of Police Motti Cohen said Thursday that he will ensure all his forces are in place to help enforce Gamzu’s plan.
“Police supervision and enforcement will focus primarily on crowded places, with an emphasis on enclosed spaces,” Cohen said. “We will not hesitate to close businesses that have broken the regulations and we will continue to impose fines against violators of the law that endanger public health.”
On Thursday, the police reported handing out more than 1,000 tickets to people who were not wearing masks and to almost as many who broke quarantine.