2 Arab Israeli towns locked down as ‘restricted area’ amid fears of outbreak

Adjacent communities of Deir al-Asad and Bi’ina in northern Israel closed for 7 days as confirmed infections in locality skyrocket, possibly due to opening of test center

Police at a temporary checkpoint in the northern Arab Israeli town of Deir al-Asad, April 15, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
Police at a temporary checkpoint in the northern Arab Israeli town of Deir al-Asad, April 15, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The Arab Israeli communities of Deir al-Asad and Bi’ina became a “restricted area” on Saturday morning amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the area.

The two adjacent towns in northern Israel, which are a single municipality, will be locked down for seven days, starting on Saturday at 8 a.m., the Health Ministry said after the ministerial committee decision on Friday evening.

Police set up roadblocks around the town and dozens of officers were deployed throughout the region

Deir al-Asad, with a population of around 12,400, had on Saturday morning 72 confirmed cases — the seventh highest infection rate in the country for a community of over 5,000 people. The majority of towns above Deir al-Asad on the infection rate list are not in lockdown.

The town had 45 confirmed cases as of Friday morning, which jumped to 62 later in the day, amounting to a 589 percent increase in the past three days, according to Hebrew media reports.

Bi’ina, with 8,300 residents, had nine confirmed infections, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

The closure of the municipal area will bar all entries and exits, except for exceptional cases, Channel 12 reported.

The Home Front Command will supply residents with food and other necessary supplies and services. The local council head was informed of the decision and supported the move, the report said.

The nearby Jewish-majority town of Karmiel also decided to restrict access to its borders, with police and inspectors at the entrance to the town carrying out checks.

A medical team receives a patient with suspected coronavirus at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, April 16, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

On Wednesday the Health Ministry instructed Deir al-Asad residents to remain at home and maintain social distance, warning there were hundreds of people who were potentially exposed to the virus in the area.

The town’s mayor, Ahmed Dabbah, on Wednesday met with representatives of the Health Ministry, Interior Ministry, police and the IDF’s Home Front Command, after which he said it was decided that those with the virus would be taken out of the community and that a hotel in Nahariya would be rented to house them.

The rise in confirmed cases in Deir al-Asad came after a mobile “drive thru” testing center was opened Monday in Karmiel, possibly accounting for the confirmed increase in infections.

MK Ahmad Tibi, head of the predominantly Arab Joint List’s health committee, said Wednesday that an agreement had been reached between the Deir al-Asad local council and the Magen David Adom emergency services to immediately open a testing center in the town.

“We are all mobilized to fight the spread of the coronavirus and the Health Ministry’s instructions, to stay at home and not to congregate, must be followed,” Tibi said in a statement, calling on residents with symptoms to get tested.

A soldier prepares to distribute food packages to residents of cities and towns hit by the coronavirus, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel’s Arab community has seen a relatively low rate of infection, but there have been complaints of insufficient access to testing in some areas with large Arab populations, which the Health Ministry has tried to address by opening mobile test sites.

Authorities are concerned about a spike in infections due to the monthlong Ramadan holiday, which starts in late April.

The Arab communities of Jisr az-Zarqa and Daburiyya last week closed roads connecting to neighboring communities to prevent the virus from spreading further.

Jisr az-Zarqa, one of Israel’s densest and poorest communities, had 37 confirmed virus cases as of Friday morning, while Daburiyya had 28. In terms of infection rate, both communities are among the top 20 municipalities in the country with over 5,000 residents.

Two weeks ago the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which has the country’s highest infection rate for a large community, was placed under a strict lockdown, with residents only allowed to leave municipal boundaries to work in key industries or to receive medical care. Several Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods were put under lockdown on Sunday.

The Cabinet approved a decision to relax lockdown restrictions on Bnei Brak on Thursday.

The death toll in Israel from rose to 151 Friday evening, an increase of eight from the previous evening, the Health Ministry said. There have been 12,982 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel as of Friday afternoon.

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