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Israel: Ministers okay lockdowns in 30 cities with high infection rates starting Monday

Cabinet ministers voted Thursday to impose lockdowns over 30 “red” cities that have high COVID-19 infection rates.

Members of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a limited forum of ministers, decided that lockdowns would take effect on Monday, according to widespread Hebrew media reports.

The restrictions under discussion for the 30 municipalities included banning entry and exit, keeping residents within 500 meters of their homes, stopping public transportation, and closing non-essential businesses and all schools save for daycare facilities and special education programs.

The closures were to be dependent on police’s ability to devote enough manpower to enforcement — otherwise the number of locked down cities could be brought down. According to Channel 12, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has instructed the military to prepare to send hundreds of soldiers to aid police.

The 30 cities and towns designated as “red” under the plan are: Nazareth, Bnei Brak, Tiberias, Abu Snan, Umm al-Fahm, Elad, Aabalin, Buqata, Beit Jann, Jaljulya, Jatt, Daliyat al-Karmel, Zemer, Taibe, Tira, Kasra-Samia, Ka’abiyye-Tabbash-Hajajre, Kafr Bara, Kafr Kanna, Kafr Qassem, Lakiya, Sheikh Danun, Maale Iron, Ein Mahil, Assafiya, Arara, Fureidis, Qalansawe, Rechasim, and Kfar Aza.

Many of the towns are predominantly ultra-Orthodox and Arab, two segments of the population that have been hit hard by the virus.

While a nationwide lockdown during the High Holiday period beginning September 18 was supposed to be discussed during Thursday’s meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, according to reports, a decision is only expected to be made in a week or so.

Addressing the country’s spiralling situation in a press conference shortly after the cabinet meting, the government’s coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu emphasized the infection rates in the Arab and Haredi sectors as those that most concerned him.

“The level of morbidity in the ultra-Orthodox sector has risen alarmingly again in the last ten days. This is related to an outbreak or positive tests in the yeshivas,” he said, a day after a top Haredi instructed yeshiva students not to be tested to avoid closures of schools and mass quarantines.

However, Gamzu avoided pointed fingers at Haredi leadership, saying ultra-Orthodox mayors were “doing their best.”

He was less restrained in discussing the outbreak in the Arab sector, claiming its residents have shown “indifference and contempt” to the growing infection rates. “I visit Arab towns a lot and I see again, still, a lack of internalization [of the seriousness of the situation]. For example at weddings.”

Channel 12 reported that some 5,000 people attended a wedding on Wednesday night in the northern town of Shfaram.

But illegal weddings have been held in other sectors as well. Haaretz reported earlier this week that hundreds attended the illicit wedding of the son of Israel’s Ambassador to China Zvi Hefetz.

Gamzu warned that while the Arab and Haredi communities were at the “forefront” of the “war,” the cases were trickling in to all towns and not one of them is immune.

Health Ministry figures released Thursday showed that the death count has been highest in the country’s capital where 149 of the 976 fatalities were Jerusalem residents. It was followed by the Haredi town of Bnei Brak where 89 have died, Tel Aviv where 64 have died and Bat Yam where 42 fatalities have been counted.

Just over 60% of the deaths, 601 of them, have been individuals between the ages of 70 and 90-years-old. 194 fatalities were patients between the ages of 90 and 102-years-old. Coronavirus fatalities between the ages of 50 and 70-years-old have accounted for 150 of the total deaths.

Among patients between the ages of 30 and 50, 20 passed away from the virus, and among patients between the ages of 5 and 19, five succumbed to COVID-19.

At the same time, a separate report from the Central Bureau of Statistics revealed that despite the deaths resulting from the pandemic, there has been no spike in Israel’s overall death rate between January and July of this year, compared to the same period in the previous five years.

The Health Ministry reported over 3,000 new daily cases on Wednesday, a record high, apparently contributing to the drastic measure decided upon by ministers.

According to the Ynet new site, ultra-Orthodox ministers Aryeh Deri, head of the Shas party, and Yaakov Litzman who leads United Torah Judaism, both opposed the local closures, claiming this was a Band-Aid approach rather than a true solution.

Also during Thursday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting, ministers were presented with research predicting hospitals could be overwhelmed within two weeks as the number of virus cases creeps upward.

The study by researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem predicted the country would have 600 serious COVID-19 cases in mid-September, up from 426 on Wednesday, setting up hospitals to face their worst-case scenarios of exhausted resources.

The study noted that the government’s health policies this summer had failed to reduce the number of daily cases.

Hospital chiefs on Thursday also sounded the alarm on a potential overload, while warning that care for patients with ailments other than COVID-19 could be compromised.

The spike in cases came just two days after 2.4 million Israeli children went back to school, and just two weeks before the High Holidays begin.

Both schools and synagogues were pinpointed as vectors of the deadly virus in the first months of the pandemic.

Source: TOI Staff