Cabinet orders lockdowns on virus hotspot neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh, Netivot

Curfew goes into effect from Sunday at 6 a.m. and will last at least 5 days after these areas see spike in infections; IDF to ensure residents have access to food, basic services

Police officers close synagogues and hand out fines in the city of Beit Shemesh to ultra-Orthodox Jews who violated coronavirus regulations, April 16, 2020. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)
Police officers close synagogues and hand out fines in the city of Beit Shemesh to ultra-Orthodox Jews who violated coronavirus regulations, April 16, 2020. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

The cabinet on Friday ordered a lockdown on several mainly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Netivot, where there has been a spike in coronavirus infections in recent days.

The lockdown will start on Sunday at 6 a.m and run for at least 5 days until Friday at 6 a.m, the cabinet decided in a video conference meeting.

The decision comes after it authorized a significant easing of restrictions on the rest of the country earlier Friday morning.

The lockdown restrictions are similar to those imposed on the city of Bnei Brak and several Jerusalem neighborhoods in recent weeks, barring people from leaving. Those were lifted on Sunday.

In Netivot, the order applied to the neighborhoods of Netaim and Shalom Boinich. It also applies to the Hazani, Tzaban, Hatzalah, Brosh, Bilu and Gershonowitz streets in the southern town.

In Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem, the neighborhoods of Nahala v’Menuha and Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet were locked down.

Beit Shemesh has seen several protests in recent days against government orders keeping synagogues and yeshiva study halls closed and police have broken up several illegal gatherings.

Police officers close synagogues and hand out fines to ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city of Beit Shemesh for violating coronavirus guidelines, April 16, 2020. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said that during the lockdown the IDF’s Home Front Command would help ensure that residents had access to food and basic services.

Most of the lockdowns have come in ultra-Orthodox cities and neighborhoods leading to accusations of discrimination. To counter that, the Health Ministry developed independent criteria of infection rates that would guide when lockdowns are imposed.

The ministry released maps showing greatly increased infection rates and infections per 1,000 people concentrated in these areas of Netivot and Beit Shemesh.

At the beginning of the month Bnei Brak was the first city 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 two weeks ago.

Jerusalem has seen the highest number of infections in the country, and Bnei Brak — the ultra-Orthodox town of 200,000 near Tel Aviv — has the second highest infection numbers. Three-quarters of the cases in Jerusalem have come from majority ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

Small segments of the ultra-Orthodox community have been resistant to adhering to government orders, particularly those shutting down synagogues and yeshivas.

Police officers arrive to close synagogues in the city of Bnei Brak on April 1, 2020 (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

The lockdowns came as the government approved lifting further restrictions on businesses as it continued to gradually reopen Israel’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Stores that aren’t in shopping malls will be allowed to operate if they adhere to guidelines regarding cleanliness, the wearing of protective gear and enforcing social distancing.

Hairdressers and beauty salons can also resume operations from midnight Saturday, if hygiene regulations related to the virus are adhered to.

In addition, restaurants and food shops will be allowed to sell products for takeaway, not just home deliveries, if a physical barrier is placed between the cashier and the customers. The problems faced by small eateries had been given a face by falafel store owner Yuval Carmi, whose tearful account of being unable to provide for his family as he couldn’t sell food for takeaway, moved the nation this week.

However, the restriction barring the general public from traveling more than 100 meters from their homes for non-essential purposes or more than 500 meters for exercising or prayers will remain in effect until after Independence Day, which ends next Wednesday evening.

People shop for food at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on April 24, 2020. ( Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The government has faced pressure to accelerate reopening the economy, though officials have expressed fears that the virus could easily rebound and warned that tighter restrictions could yet be put back in place.

Small business owners have been pushing for the government to allow them to reopen, citing weeks of lost income.

The cabinet on Wednesday voted in favor of severely limiting commemorations and celebrations of Israel’s independence and memorial days and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in the latest bid to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Over Ramadan, which begins Thursday evening, all stores in towns with majority Muslim populations, aside from pharmacies, will be closed to the public from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. to discourage people from congregating during the holy month in which Muslims traditionally fast during the day and enjoy joint meals at night (though stores will be able to operate deliveries during those hours).

On Memorial Day, which begins Monday night and ends Tuesday evening, people will be barred from visiting military cemeteries and memorial sites. Intercity travel will be prohibited with the exception of people going to work and shopping in permitted stores. On Independence Day, which begins Tuesday evening and ends Wednesday evening, a general curfew will be in effect requiring people to remain within 100 meters of their homes — except for medicinal needs — and banning intercity travel, similar to the curfew earlier this month for Passover. Supermarkets will not be open to the public.

The Independence Day curfew will begin at 5 p.m. on April 28 and end at 8 p.m. the next day.

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