As police step up enforcement of virus rules, MKs to debate restaurant limits

As police step up enforcement of virus rules, MKs to debate restaurant limits

Thousands of officers deployed to district headquarters; ministers to approve limits at event halls, synagogues; Bnei Brak yeshiva sees outbreak

Police officers patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem to enforce emergency COVID-19 regulations, on July 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police officers patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem to enforce emergency COVID-19 regulations, on July 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset members were set to meet Sunday morning to discuss and vote on further restrictions to rein in the surging coronavirus outbreak in Israel, as police announced thousands of officers would be allocated to efforts to enforce regulations.

The new measures to be approved by the Knesset were expected to include limitations on the number of people at event halls, nightclubs and bars, with attendance at all of them likely to be capped at 50 people, as approved by the so-called coronavirus cabinet on Thursday evening.

Those restrictions would go into effect Monday morning, the Channel 12 news site reported, so that weddings scheduled for Sunday evening would not be canceled.

Venue owners say that the new restrictions will strangle their industry and that the government must offer them financial compensation.

“Make no mistake: The government’s decision to reduce the number of guests at weddings to 50 means closing the industry,” the Association of Halls and Event Centers said in a statement.

Israelis on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, on June 30, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

In addition, talks will be held about possible regulations for restaurants, with the Health Ministry reportedly demanding that eateries be included in the list of venues that should be limited to 50 people at a time.

However, the Treasury is instead reportedly supporting a proposal for a stricter standard that would require the registration of identification details of diners.

Finance Minister Israel Katz said that the collapse of the restaurant industry could leave a further 150,000 people without jobs, the Ynet news site reported. Israel’s unemployment rates are very high, at 21.2% — only somewhat better than the 27.8% peak at the height of the pandemic. These include some 862,000 unemployed and 605,000 on furlough. In February, unemployment had been at a record low of 3.4%.

On Friday, new regulations went into effect capping the majority of indoor gatherings at 20 people. Synagogues were initially included in the 20-person limitations, but were dropped from it after a conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, according to a statement from the latter’s office.

Police announced on Sunday a plan to increase their enforcement of social distancing guidelines meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus after discussions were held between interim police commissioner Motti Cohen and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, as well as other senior law enforcement officials.

Thousands of officers will be drafted into a special task force to carry out inspections and enforcement of the coronavirus regulations, including on public transportation.

Newly appointed Public Security Minister Amir Ohana attends a passing the baton ceremony at the Public Security Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Special headquarters will be established in all eight police districts, the statement said, which will be staffed by officers tasked with preventing prohibited gatherings and enforcing mandatory mask-wearing and restrictions on businesses.

Ohana said the emphasis should be on “smart enforcement,” the police statement said, with resources focused on areas, businesses and transportation routes with the highest volume of people.

The Kan public broadcaster noted the formulation of the plan came amid continued delays in authorizing municipal inspectors to enforce the rules.

On Sunday, Channel 13 news reported that around 160 students at a seminary in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak were diagnosed with the coronavirus.

According to the report, the head of the Beit Matityahu Yeshiva, which has around 700 students, was among those those diagnosed with the infection.

Channel 12 reported on Friday that a growing number of ultra-Orthodox Israelis have been taking coronavirus tests through unofficial channels so as not to have their cases recorded by health authorities due to worries that their communities could be put under lockdown, like Bnei Brak was earlier this year.

People wear face masks to prevent spread of the coronavirus in Bnei Brak, April 3, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The station reported that there are those in the community who have expressed concerns over how their communities are perceived by secular Israelis, some of whom have blamed them for the spread of the virus.

A report by the Corona National Information and Knowledge Center published Friday said that virus cases doubled in Jerusalem over the previous week, with most of the rise concentrated in ultra-Orthodox and East Jerusalem neighborhoods.

During the pandemic’s first wave, the ultra-Orthodox community was disproportionately affected by the virus.

The higher infection rates in ultra-Orthodox communities have largely been ascribed to overcrowded conditions in their neighborhoods, their intensely communal nature and the initial refusal of rabbis to endorse social-distancing measures and close synagogues and other religious institutions.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures on Saturday evening, new coronavirus infections brought the total number of confirmed cases in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 29,170.

The ministry also announced four new deaths from COVID-19 over Saturday, raising the toll to 330.

Of the 11,024 active cases, there were 84 people in serious condition, including 32 on ventilators. Another 74 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms or were asymptomatic.

Police officers guard at the entrance to a neighborhood in the city of Lod, during a closure on some neighborhood in the city following the spread of the Coronavirus, on July 3, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Amid the rising caseload, thousands of Israelis received messages instructing them to enter quarantine after the Knesset renewed the use of controversial surveillance measures to track coronavirus carriers and those with whom they were in contact.

Many Israelis who received the messages called the Health Ministry to appeal, but have been unable to get through due to the large number of callers, the report said. Anyone who did not receive official permission to be exempt from quarantine must begin to self-isolate.

Netanyahu said Friday that Israel was again in the midst of a “major outbreak” after the number of active coronavirus cases passed 10,000 for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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