Gov't to extend lockdown to more cities facing severe outbreak

Ultra-Orthodox and other cities to face tighter restrictions due to coronavirus epidemic, Jerusalem to be divided into eight regions

Border Police go about coronavirus inspections in Mea Shearim, a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Border Police go about coronavirus inspections in Mea Shearim, a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The government is poised to expand the lockdown measures being used in Bnei Brak to other cities in the country, not just haredi (ultra-Orthodox) ones, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Under consideration for increased lockdown measures are the haredi cities of Elad, Betar Illit and Modi’in Illit, as well as Tiberias, Ashkelon, Migdal Ha’emek and Or Yehuda, an Interior Ministry source said.
The restrictions will be similar to those in Bnei Brak, including a ban on entering or leaving except for essential workers, but slightly less severe in nature.
The new restrictions will go into effect on Monday morning, the source said.
In addition, the government is considering dividing Jerusalem into eight zones and restricting the movement of residents, who will be required to stay in the zone in which they reside for all requirements.
The government is also considering a nationwide lockdown for the first night of Passover this Wednesday due to the danger that people will travel to family and friends for the Seder and generate a new wave of coronavirus infections, Interior Minister Arye Deri.
“We are thinking about imposing a nationwide lockdown for Passover so that people don’t go to each other’s houses and we lose control because of a lack of discipline,” he told Channel 12.
Deri, who also heads the government’s task force for tackling the COVID-19 outbreak in the haredi community, said there would be a heightened presence of police and law-enforcement personnel on the roads on the first night of Passover, and “anyone traveling will have to explain to the police where they are going.”
He lambasted what he described as incitement against the haredi community by elements in the media and the general public over a perceived responsibility for the epidemic.
“The overwhelming majority of the haredi community is completely disciplined,” Deri said. “They are doing what they are instructed. But instead of embracing each other, people are attacking one another.”
He singled out Channel 12 news anchor Rina Matzliah.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also denounced what he described as incitement against the haredim, who he said had “internalized the danger and the Health Ministry instructions.”
“The coronavirus epidemic does not distinguish between ultra-Orthodox and secular, Arabs and Jews… Together we will defeat it,” he said.
Earlier on Sunday, Deri said he was concerned about the high and growing number of infections in haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
Some haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem have a higher coronavirus infection rate than Bnei Brak, the city with the highest rate in the country, Deri told the Knesset Committee for Coronavirus.
“The majority of those ill with coronavirus in Jerusalem are in the haredi neighborhoods,” he said. “In some of those neighborhoods that have a [high] concentration of infected people, the rate of infection is higher even than Bnei Brak.”
Deri declined to say which neighborhoods he was referring to.
According to figures from early last week, the haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem had the largest outbreaks of the contagion.
The top five neighborhoods with the highest number of infected people were all haredi, including Har Nof with 44, Bayit Vagan with 37, Geula with 34, Romema with 29 and Ramot with 19, according to figures provided to the Jerusalem Municipality.
As of Saturday, Jerusalem had 1,132 people who have tested positive for COVID-19, approximately 0.12% of the population, while Bnei Brak had 1,061 people infected, representing 0.54% of that city’s residents.
The Purim holiday had been a significant cause in spreading the virus around the haredi community because of the large gatherings that take place in synagogues and for festive meals where people often host large numbers of families, Deri said.
The haredi community and its rabbis were not fully cooperating with the social-distancing orders and other requirements to stop the spread of the coronavirus and deal with its impact, he said, adding: “Let’s not enter into what was and what wasn’t.”
When restrictions were gradually increased by the government in March, most haredi leaders were reluctant to comply with the social-distancing restrictions because of the limitations it put on religious life.
One of the biggest problems in Bnei Brak is dealing with the elderly population, which is at high risk of infection, serious complications with the disease and for spreading it, Deri said.
He said his task force had decided to leave the elderly at home and not remove them to hotels outside of the city following recommendations of the Health Ministry, which said one such person in a hotel could infect everyone else there.
Instead, efforts are being made to provide the elderly and others in Bnei Brak who are quarantined with everything they need so they do not need to leave their homes, Deri said.