Several communities in northern Israel closed their doors to outsiders on Friday due to fears of a coronavirus outbreak among their residents.
The Arab Israeli communities of Daburiyya and Jisr az-Zarqa, and the Jewish-majority town of Kfar Hasidim, all closed roads connecting to neighboring communities.
A national lockdown barring intercity travel came into effect Tuesday ahead of the Passover holiday and was lifted Friday morning.
Local leaders in Daburiyya and Jisr az-Zarqa decided to only allow residents into the communities, Haaretz reported on Friday.
The decision was made in coordination with police and local authorities due to an increase in the number of virus cases in the area, and community residents’ non-compliance with Health Ministry guidelines aimed at containing the virus spread.
In Daburiyya, the roads to the nearby communities of Iksal, Shibli and Umm al-Ghana were blocked with dirt barriers. The main road into the town is open, but manned by police who confirm that people trying to enter are residents.
Daburiyya has 27 confirmed cases and dozens of residents in quarantine, the report said.
Local council head Zahir Yusef said: “I know it’s a very unusual step, and Daburiyya is a center of commerce for many people, but due to a fear of a breakout, we must take steps like this.”
Yusef wanted to close the town’s shops, but agreed to allow essential businesses to remain open at specified times.
Jisr az-Zarqa, one of Israel’s densest and poorest communities, has 26 confirmed virus cases. Community leaders, warning of a breakout there due to the town’s density, blocked off the town’s main entrance road and set up an isolation facility which currently houses 10 people.
A community activist told Haaretz that the infections came from area hospitals where some of the residents work.
Fears of an outbreak in Israel’s Arab populace rose after medical personnel carried out 14,000 coronavirus tests in Arab communities in the past week, finding 278 cases, representing a 70 percent increase over the previous week. The tests did not include East Jerusalem.
Daburiyya’s mosques called for residents to heed the Health Ministry’s guidelines following the report. The mosques had already canceled Friday prayer services.
The local council is encouraging area residents with symptoms to get tested for the disease.
Arab communities are exempt from some government restrictions relating to the Passover holiday this week.
According to Health Ministry data released Tuesday, the lowest rates of infection in Israel were reported primarily in Arab-majority cities and towns.
The community of Kfar Hasidim in northern Israel on Friday closed its road to the nearby ultra-Orthodox town of Rekhasim.
Rekhasim has 28 confirmed cases out of its 12,000 residents, a relatively high number, the Walla news site reported. Police in recent weeks have shut down markets, synagogue services and businesses in the town that remained open despite the government-ordered shutdown.
Council head Dan Cohen said that he had notified police of the concrete barrier between Rekhasim and Kfar Hasidim. The police said they had not approved the road’s closure.
Cohen reportedly sent a truck to remove the blockade several hours later.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community has been hit hard by the virus, especially in the central city of Bnei Brak and Jerusalem. The vast majority of infections in the capital are believed to be concentrated in its ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, the Health Ministry said Tuesday.
Many in the ultra-Orthodox community initially dismissed social distancing regulations, which officials say has led to the high rate of infection. This prompted the closure of Bnei Brak — the most densely populated city in Israel — by the government, the first for an Israeli city amid the pandemic.
Israel’s death toll from the pandemic rose to 95 on Friday night, with nine new deaths reported by the Health Ministry over the last 24 hours.
Officials said the number of confirmed cases was 10,408. Of those cases, 167 were in serious condition, including 124 on ventilators. Another 173 people were in moderate condition, with the rest having mild symptoms. So far 1,183 have recovered from the illness.
More than 100,000 people have died globally of the coronavirus.