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“What is happening in Bnei Brak is like Italy”

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and officials from the Health, Finance and Defense ministries shifted their focus slightly to considering restrictions on some specific pockets of society, such as the haredim (ultra-Orthodox), many who continue to ignore certain guidelines.

“What is happening in Bnei Brak is like Italy,” one doctor from a major hospital in the center of the country told Channel 12 over the weekend.

“Almost every haredi who is tested for the virus is found positive. There are families with 100% infection. The Health Ministry needs to go door to door, and take the sick from their homes. If not, in another few weeks, we will see them coming in by masses.”

Haredim constitute as much as 50% of coronavirus patients hospitalized throughout the country, Channel 12 reported: Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel 50%; Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer 60% in ICU, 50% in other units; Shaare Zedek 50% to 60%; Hadassah Ein Kerem 40%.

The Health Ministry is considering instituting a full lockdown only on those areas where cases are particularly widespread, such as Bnei Brak in general or neighborhoods within the largely haredi town.

The government is still considering expanding restrictions throughout the country, too, which could include decreasing the number of workers allowed in the office from 30% to 15%, requiring staff to work in shifts, or asking employees if they have symptoms before they are allowed to enter the workplace.

At the same time, the government has committed to increasing coronavirus tests per day to 30,000 within two weeks.

During cabinet discussions on Sunday, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman supported the idea of quarantining the entire city of Bnei Brak, although according to Bnei Brak municipal council member Yaakov Veeder there are as yet no concrete plans to carry this out.

The option of quarantining ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in other cities is also being considered, although there are no immediate plans to do so.

Because of the growing crisis in the ultra-Orthodox sector, the government decided to appoint Interior Minister Aryeh Deri as the coordinator of government efforts to halt the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic in the ultra-Orthodox community.

A quarantine center has now been established in Bnei Brak on the campus of an educational institution, while Deri has ordered that a site outside of major urban areas be found for treating those sick with the coronavirus.

Following the release of data over the weekend showing high rates of coronavirus infection in cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations, the most senior rabbinic leader of the ultra-Orthodox world, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, gave an order to the community to cease praying in prayer quorums of at least ten men, as is customary.