Checkpoints dismantled as lockdown of virus-hit Arab towns in north lifted
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Checkpoints dismantled as lockdown of virus-hit Arab towns in north lifted

Police take down most checkpoints placed at entrances to Deir al-Asad and Bi’ina, the former of which had the highest infection rate in the country as of Friday

Police check cars at a temporary checkpoint in the northern Arab Israeli town of Deir el-Assad on April 16, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic . (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Police check cars at a temporary checkpoint in the northern Arab Israeli town of Deir el-Assad on April 16, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic . (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Police on Saturday took down checkpoints at the entrances to a pair of Arab towns in northern Israel that were put on lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak in the area.

The government declared Deir al-Asad and Bi’ina “restricted zones” last week for a period of seven days that ended Saturday morning, following a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in the communities.

Of the eight checkpoints set up at the entrances to the towns, all but one were taken down, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Though they were no longer designated as restricted zones, Deir al-Asad and Bi’ina would continue to be subject to nighttime curfews that the government put in place for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

A worker checks the temperature of a customer at a store in the northern Arab Israeli town of Deir al-Asad on April 18, 2020. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

As of Friday, Deir al-Asad, with a rate of 1,142 cases per 100,000 people, had the highest infection rate of any community in Israel with over 5,000 residents.

There were 145 confirmed coronavirus cases in the town, which has a population of 12,435.

Bi’ina, with 22 cases out of a population of 8,355, had the 11th highest infection rate in the country — 251 per 100,000 people.

Before a sharp rise in infections that began last week, which came days after a testing center was opened in the nearby Jewish-majority town of Karmiel, Deir al-Asad and Bi’ina had recorded few confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Israel’s Arab community has seen a relatively low rate of infection, but there have been complaints of insufficient access to testing in some areas with large Arab populations, which the Health Ministry has tried to address by opening mobile test sites.

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)

As the lockdowns in Bi’ina and Deir al-Asad were lifted, new ones were set to take effect Sunday in several mainly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Netivot, where there has been a spike in coronavirus infections in recent days.

The Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak and numerous neighborhoods in Jerusalem, most of them ultra-Orthodox, had been under lockdown until Sunday, with residents of these areas prevented from leaving.

The approval of lockdowns in Netivot and Beit Shemesh on Friday came as the government approved lifting further restrictions on businesses as it continued to gradually reopen Israel’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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.

As of Saturday, there have been 15,148 COVID-19 cases in Israel and 198 deaths.

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