Cabinet eases Bnei Brak lockdown, extends Jerusalem neighborhoods closure

Cars to be permitted into Haredi city, but no public transportation; earlier reports said lockdown would be lifted fully

Border Police officers enforce a curfew in the ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, April 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Border Police officers enforce a curfew in the ultra Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, April 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The ministerial committee formulating Israel’s response to the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday approved a decision to relax lockdown restrictions in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, while extending closure rules in Jerusalem neighborhoods until April 19.

The capital’s Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood joined the list of closed down areas, which are predominantly Haredi, Hebrew media reports said.

The decision to ease the closure around Bnei Brak, which will permit cars to enter and leave the city but no public transportation, came amid a pledge to evacuate 700 residents sick with the virus to designated quarantine hotels by Monday in order to reduce the rate of infection.

An industrial zone in the north of the city was exempted from the closure measures due to a relatively low rate of infection there.

The new measures are in effect from 6 p.m.

Border police officers block a main road following the government’s measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, April 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty,)

The move came despite multiple reports earlier in the day that said the lockdown would be removed in both Bnei Brak and the Jerusalem neighborhoods. Police had already taken down barriers at the entrances and exits to Bnei Brak on Wednesday night as the two-week lockdown rules came to an end.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon reportedly vehemently opposed that plan, with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett backing his stance and the eventual decision being approved with the Health Ministry’s okay.

Bnei Brak’s deputy mayor, Gedalyahu Ben Shimon, lambasted the decision, saying the lockdown had “utterly failed” and claiming the re-installation of the checkpoints was “only to appease anti-Haredi elements.”

“We call on the ministers not to give in to cheap populism but carry out real steps to evacuate the sick from the city,” he said in a statement. “That is the only efficient solution at this time.”

The ultra-Orthodox town of 200,000 near Tel Aviv has the second highest infection numbers in the country — 2,150 as of Thursday. Jerusalem leads with 2,418 cases.

Magen David Adom medical workers seen at a drive-through site to collect samples for coronavirus testing at the Shuafat Refugee Camp in east Jerusalem, April 16, 2020. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two weeks ago Bnei Brak 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 Kan public broadcaster reported Thursday that Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem were likely to be placed under lockdown next, following an increase in infection rates. Kan said that Silwan and Ras al-Amud were among the neighborhoods facing closures.

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