Amid Haredi violations, Gantz says lockdown ‘pointless’ if enforcement selective

Ministers to convene Tuesday to discuss extending current restrictions, as coronavirus czar warns ‘immense strain’ on hospitals expected to continue

Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020. (Alex Kolomiensky/Pool/AFP)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrives at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020. (Alex Kolomiensky/Pool/AFP)

Amid more and more reports of large-scale institutional violations of the lockdown rules in the ultra-Orthodox community, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday there was “no point” continuing the lockdown if enforcement is selective.

“This week we will decide whether to extend the lockdown” beyond its current January 21 deadline, Gantz says during a tour of a contact-tracing center.

“If there isn’t equal enforcement, there is no point in continuing the lockdown,” he said.

Channel 12 reported that residents of ultra-Orthodox areas were operating a special phone line with many informants providing updates every time a police vehicle arrived, including what streets they were on.

The line was operating in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood and in several neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh, according to the report.

Police clash with ultra-Orthodox Jewish men while enforcing lockdown rules in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood on January 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Mea Shearim resident was quoted as saying police rarely come in any case, and leave quickly when they do.

“Everything is business as usual with us. Everything’s open,” he said.

Many reports have said major yeshivas are open. Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with cops who came to close one in Jerusalem and threw rocks and other objects at them.

No arrests were made and several fines were issued.

The ultra-Orthodox community has significantly higher positive COVID-19 test rates than the general population.

The cabinet meeting in which ministers will decide whether to extend the current tightened lockdown restrictions beyond January 21 has been set for Tuesday, according to Hebrew media reports.

Government coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Sunday that he would likely recommend extending the current lockdown restrictions beyond the January 21 expiration date, citing still-rising infections. But he expressed hope that the trend was starting to reverse.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash visits the Ziv hospital in Safed, December 24, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

“Over the past days we can see immense strain on the health care system,” Ash said. “There are about 1,200 serious patients, COVID-19 wards are 85 percent full, and hospitals are scaling back non-urgent procedures. The strain is expected to continue for several more days until we see a drop in infections.

“We are following the numbers of confirmed patients and are cautiously hoping that the slowdown trend from the weekend will continue. The direction is encouraging,” he said, but warned: “The odds that we will recommend extending the lockdown are high.”

Channel 12 reported Saturday that while the Health Ministry is pushing to extend the tightened lockdown measures, opposition from Blue and White and ultra-Orthodox parties could see them expire Thursday as scheduled.

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