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Cabinet declares Bnei Brak ‘restricted zone,’ ‘will do same for other epicenters’

The cabinet voted on Thursday to declare Bnei Brak a “restricted zone” in a measure that will further hinder movement in and out of the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city that has become Israel’s largest hotspot for the coronavirus.

The move will limit entrance to residents, police, rescue services, those bringing essential supplies and journalists and will initially last for seven days, with the option to be extended by ministers by five days at a time.

The cabinet also approved the formation of a ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that will be charged with determining whether additional towns should be declared “restriction zones” in order to curb the outbreak.

One of the towns mentioned by Health Minister director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov during the Thursday evening cabinet meeting, which took place over conference call, was the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, which has seen dozens of confirmed cases, according to Channel 13.

The ministers also approved a measure requiring anyone returning from abroad, who does not have somewhere to isolate for two weeks according to Health Ministry guidelines, to be placed in a state-run isolation facility.

The cabinet also authorized chief district physicians and HMO heads to order patients placed in state-run isolation facilities, if they deem it necessary.

Civilians will be authorized to petition such orders, though it was not immediately clear if authorities will be allowed to forcibly place them in a state-appointed isolation facility while their petition is being deliberated.

The state will provide those who are in its isolation facilities with food and cleaning products, with the latter benefit apparently aimed at reassuring religious Israelis concerned about being able to clean for the Passover holiday.

The approved regulations stipulate that those who refuse orders to enter state facilities or who violate quarantine orders will be fined NIS 5,000 ($1,370).

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu approved a plan allowing the Israel Defense Forces to remove some 4,500 people above the age of 80 from Bnei Brak, placing those residents most at risk of falling ill from the coronavirus in state-run isolation hotels.

The plan was drawn up by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, in cooperation with authorities in Bnei Brak and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose office will be providing the NIS 75 million ($20.5 million) funding necessary to carry it out. It will go into effect on Sunday

With a population of 200,000, Bnei Brak has seen the second-highest number of infections of all Israeli cities in total numbers, and the highest rate by far per capita.

The isolation hotels, run by the Home Front Command, are being adapted to fit the lifestyles of the Haredi residents.

Earlier Thursday, a top health official speculated during his testimony in front of a Knesset panel that nearly 40 percent of Bnei Brak residents had contracted the coronavirus.

Dr. Ran Saar, who runs the Maccabi health maintenance organization, said that according to his group’s projections Bnei Brak was harboring tens of thousands of hidden cases that had not been confirmed by testing and called for government action to prevent an even larger outbreak during the Passover holiday.

The claim would put the number of sick in Bnei Brak at around 75,000, much higher than the 900 cases confirmed there by official Health Ministry data.

Header: Israeli police officers remove ultra-Orthodox men from the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, as part of an effort to enforce a lockdown in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, on April 2, 2020. (Flash90)