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Police said to remove most Bnei Brak roadblocks, anticipating end of closure

Police on Wednesday night removed most of the roadblocks deployed throughout the city of Bnei Brak in recent weeks, according to multiple reports, as the cabinet was expected to end a nearly two-week closure of the city that has emerged as a coronavirus hotspot.

Cabinet ministers were discussing revoking the city’s definition as a “restricted zone,” declared on April 2, as the largely ultra-Orthodox city experienced a severe spike in infections.

For the past two weeks residents have been largely prevented from leaving the city (though last Friday restrictions were eased somewhat, with residents allowed to travel outside the city for work and some other essential needs).

But according to multiple reports on social media and in Hebrew press, police were already anticipating that the government lockdown of the city would not be extended.

A similar closure has also been imposed since Sunday on several ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem where high infection rates have been reported. It was not immediately clear whether checkpoints were being removed there as well.

Channel 12 reported earlier that the closures would likely not be extended, saying while officials believe they have been effective in the particularly hard-hit communities, they were now looking towards more pinpointed steps.

Jerusalem and Bnei Brak have led virus cases in Israel, with over 2,000 confirmed cases in the first and nearly 1,900 in the second. According to Health Ministry data, about 75 percent of the infections in Jerusalem have occurred in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

It was not immediately clear what data was being used as the basis for ending the closures.

The head of the military’s Home Front Command on Monday said the military was designating cities on a red-yellow-green scale from most to least affected by the coronavirus. He said the only two cities in Israel to be designated as “red” were Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, though another 10 municipalities were at risk of joining them even as the Home Front Command and other government institutions were working with local authorities to prevent that from happening. The military would not immediately specify which cities these 10 were.

Home Front Command chief Major General Tamir Yadai said the military was using a number of factors to make these designations, only one of which was the raw number of cases in the city. Other major considerations were the portion of the population over the age of 60, as the disease tends to hit the elderly more severely, as well as the local government’s ability to handle the crisis.

Yadai said the cities designated as “green” could gradually be reopened, though he stressed that people “should not have any illusions” that everything will go back to normal soon.

Two battalions — the Nahal Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion and a Home Front Command search-and-rescue battalion — have been operating in Jerusalem, specifically in its ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, along with a similar number in Bnei Brak, providing tens of thousands of at-risk and quarantined residents with food three times a week.

According to the IDF, over 2 million packages of food have been distributed to over 400,000 people in communities under closure.

Source: TOI Staff