Beitar Illit lockdown ends as ultra-Orthodox push back against restrictions
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27% positive virus results among tests in city in past week

Beitar Illit lockdown ends as ultra-Orthodox push back against restrictions

Health Ministry director-general informs mayor that limits on entry and exit will not be extended, even as coronavirus continues to rise among residents

Police put up roadblocks at the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit outside of Jerusalem, which was declared a restricted zone due to a high rate of coronavirus infections, July 9, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Police put up roadblocks at the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit outside of Jerusalem, which was declared a restricted zone due to a high rate of coronavirus infections, July 9, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A lockdown of Betar Illit came to an end on Wednesday morning a week after the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city was declared a restricted zone due to a high rate of coronavirus infections among its residents.

The development came despite the city still being considered a virus hotspot and followed pushback led by ultra-Orthodox lawmakers against what they say is unfair focus in enforcing restrictions on the community as part of nationwide efforts to curb a spiraling second outbreak of the virus.

The Beitar Illit municipality said in a statement Tuesday night that Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy had informed the city’s Mayor Meir Rubinstein that the restricted zone order would not be extended and would end on Wednesday morning.

“We will continue to work tirelessly to maintain the guidelines in the city in an unambiguous manner, continue to evacuate patients from the city and bring about a reduction in morbidity,” the municipal statement said.

The city, a West Bank settlement south of Jerusalem of some 55,000 residents who are almost all ultra-Orthodox, has seen 387 new infections over the past week, the fourth-highest number in the country, according to Health Ministry data released Wednesday morning. There are nearly 700 active cases within the city.

It was declared a restricted zone last week as coronavirus infections spiked there, with limited entry and exit for seven days.

Border Police officers scuffle with ultra-Orthodox Jews during a protest against the closure on the Romema and Kiryat Belz neighborhoods of Jerusalem, on July 13, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Ministry figures from Tuesday night show that there were still 673 active COVID-19 patients in the city, and that there were 405 new cases of the disease, caused by the coronavirus, diagnosed in the past week.

Figures from the Corona National Campaign Information and Knowledge Center showed that the rate of positive virus results among tests in the city over the past week was 27 percent, the Walla news website reported.

By comparison, the national average for positive test rates has been around 6% over the past week, according to Health Ministry data.

Lockdowns remain in effect in parts of Ashdod, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Lod, Ramle and Kiryat Malachi. Many of the locked down neighborhoods are majority ultra-Orthodox, leading to claims of discrimination against the community.

In Jerusalem, anti-lockdown protesters have repeatedly clashed with police.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers demanded Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu work to stop what they called biased and selective enforcement of public health regulations that unfairly targets their community.

MKs from the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties met with Netanyahu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, following days of complaints and threats by some lawmakers that they could bolt the coalition.

In a statement following the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office said that prior to future closures, consultations would be held with representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community, and, if possible, command centers would be opened in the affected communities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and ultra-Orthodox MKs to discuss the government’s coronavirus response, on July 13, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Government officials have warned a full national lockdown may be imposed soon, but ministers remained deadlock Tuesday over new steps to halt the virus’s spread.

The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. New daily virus cases, which had dropped to low double digits through most of May, have soared to over 1,500 a day, and the number of active cases has risen to nearly 23,000.

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