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Israel: As lockdown tightens, police begin enforcing rules with explanations, then fines

The enforcement of a new set of restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus will begin gently, with warnings and explanations, but will escalate to fines and more severe punishments over time, the Public Security Ministry said Wednesday.

The new regulations, which are aimed at keeping Israelis inside their homes as much as possible, went into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday. From that time, people are meant to stay inside unless they are going to an approved job, purchasing food or medicine, or taking part in a small number of specific other activities approved by the government.

The government on Wednesday also gave police the power to impose fines of NIS 500 ($138) or even imprisonment of up to six months for individuals violating these restrictions, as well as larger fines for businesses who do so, including a NIS 5,000 ($1380) fine for illegally operating public transportation.

On Wednesday afternoon, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan met with the heads of the Israel Police, Israel Prison Service, and Fire and Rescue Services, as well as representatives from the Israel Defense Forces and Magen David Adom ambulance service, to discuss the enforcement of these fresh restrictions.

The police were tasked with leading this effort and were set to fan out Wednesday evening to begin clearing public places of people who were in contravention of the rules.

The police officers may eventually be assisted by some 650 IDF soldiers, an undisclosed number of firefighters and security guards from the Parks Authority and assorted government offices, who will join them on patrols, Erdan’s office said.

Should the government decide to impose a full lockdown of the country, an additional 3,000 soldiers would assist police in enforcing it under an agreement with the military, the IDF said Tuesday.

“The policy of enforcement will be patient and accepting in light of the special situation and the need to work together to fight the spread of the virus. The focus of the first few days of enforcing the regulations will be explaining [them] to the public,” Erdan’s office said in a statement.

To that end, police were tasked with translating the regulations into Arabic, Russian and Amharic to ensure that all Israelis, regardless of their mother tongue, could understand them.

“These regulations are creating a difficult and complicated challenge of enforcement that hasn’t been seen in decades, but this challenge is an important challenge, as our enforcement of them saves lives and essentially our effort here — by police, by soldiers, by firefighters, by prison guards — must be done, now more than ever, in a way that is accepting, that is tolerant, that brings in the citizens of this country, because all of us have one goal: stopping the spread of the virus,” Erdan said during the meeting.

During the discussion, it was determined that police must all wear and operate body cameras while interacting with the public “in light of the complexities of enforcing the regulations,” his office said.

Erdan also told police to take efforts to fight the growing rates of domestic violence in Israel, which have notably increased in recent days.

“In light of a request from [Likud] MK Keren Barak, Minister Erdan ordered the police to specifically oversee this matter, including visits to homes of families in which there are threatened women or in which there’s an indication or a concern that they may be abused,” his office said.

The public security minister said he was looking to get approval for police officers to be allowed to give fines to supermarket owners who do not require their stores’ security guards to take the temperature of their customers and deny entry to anyone with a fever exceeding 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

Erdan also requested that security companies collect the guns of their employees who were put on leave, as stores and businesses were closed across the country, according to the Arutz Sheva news site.

On Wednesday, the Health Ministry said 2,170 Israelis have been infected with the virus, with 37 in serious condition. Five Israelis, all of whom had preexisting medical conditions, have died.

The regulations permit Israelis to leave their homes only for the following activities:

1. Going to work and coming back, within previously specified regulations on who is allowed to work;

2. Stocking up on food, medicine and necessary goods and to receive essential services;

3. Receiving medical care;

4. Donating blood;

5. For legal proceedings;

6. To attend a demonstration;

7. Going to the Knesset;

8. Receiving care in a social work framework;

9. A short walk of no more than 100 meters from one’s home either as an individual or with others from the same residence for an undefined “short period of time”;

10. Helping a person with a medical problem or other difficulty that requires support, such as old age or physical infirmity;

11. Going to an outdoor area for prayer, a wedding, funeral or circumcision with fewer than 10 people at a distance of two meters apart. A woman can also go to immerse in a mikveh provided that she has coordinated her arrival in advance;

12. Taking children to educational frameworks for those whose parents are essential workers (in accordance with previous orders);

13. Taking children whose parents do not live together, from one residence to another;

14. Transfer of a child whose sole caregiver is required to leave for an essential purpose.

In addition, public transportation was severely reduced to around 25 percent of services, and taxis will only be permitted to take one passenger unless the second is an escort for medical reasons. All passengers must sit in the back seat of the vehicle with the windows open.

All Israelis have been instructed to maintain a distance of two meters, or roughly six feet, from anyone else as much as possible.

In addition, a “place of work” has a duty to check the body temperature of people entering. Anyone with a fever exceeding 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) is to be denied entry.

Restaurant delivery services will be allowed to continue; however, takeout is no longer permitted. Shipping and delivery of items bought online can also continue but all packages are to be left outside the door of the residence.

Non-essential stores are to close and parks are to remain shut.

Essential home maintenance services are also permitted to continue.

People over the age of 60 are deemed to be an at-risk section of the population, and are encouraged to remain at home, according to the joint announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry.

Any store remaining open must ensure there is two meters between all staff and customers, and can only have four customers per active cash register.

Header: Police officers seen during a raid on the ultra orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim, as they close shops and disperse public gatherings following the government decisions in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. March 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)