City officials say they won’t enforce lockdown unless all schools are closed

Video appears to show some ultra-Orthodox schools open in high infection areas despite stringent new rules. 5 arrested in Beitar Illit scuffles when police shut school

Screen grab from a video apparently showing students entering a yeshiva in Beitar Illit despite the government lockdown (Channel 12 news)
Screen grab from a video apparently showing students entering a yeshiva in Beitar Illit despite the government lockdown (Channel 12 news)

A representative of municipal officials said on Sunday they would refuse to enforce the newly tightened restrictions in the country’s third lockdown unless schools were shut in all areas and enforcement was carried out equally in all communities.

Israel entered a strict lockdown on Friday, closing schools and nonessential businesses and instructing the public not to venture outside except for essential needs. The two previous weeks had seen a loosely enforced lockdown with schools largely functioning.

Sunday was the first real test of the new restrictions. Video footage circulating on social media appeared to show some ultra-Orthodox educational institutions opening their gates in high infection areas in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and the settlement of Beitar Illit, as well as some indoor prayers taking place.

“This will be the last closure only if there is equal enforcement between all sectors and Israeli cities,” said Haim Bibas, the head of the national mayors union. “If we want to be the first country in the world to emerge from the coronavirus crisis, we must ensure all communities pull their weight and we must take the steps that will ensure that this does happen.”

Bibas is the mayor of the central city of Modiin and an observer in the coronavirus cabinet as a representative of municipal authorities. Thousands of city inspectors around the country work alongside police to ensure that restrictions are adhered to.

Police said five people were arrested in Beitar Illit when officers arrived to shut down a school that was operating illegally.

A crowd gathered and attacked a media team, also damaging police vehicles and passing buses, police said.

Meanwhile, there was congestion reported on roads in some parts of the country, partially due to roadblocks set up to enforce the lockdown but also seemingly due to people leaving their homes for nonessential purposes, in defiance of the regulations.

Chief Superintendent Asi Aharoni told the Ynet news site that thousands of fines had been handed out to people who were on the roads without good reason.

“Everyone [stopped] at the checkpoints is ‘going to help grandma.’ But when we check the computer, we find that grandma died a few years ago,” Aharoni said.

Police at a temporary roadblock outside Jerusalem on January 10, 2021, during a 3rd nationwide full lockdown, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The comments came as the number of coronavirus patients in serious condition topped 1,000 on Sunday, for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

As the third wave of the pandemic continued to take a heavy toll on the country, the Health Ministry reported a record 1,029 serious cases, an increase of 36 in the previous 24 hours and nearly 300 in a week.

According to figures released by the ministry, 5,047 new coronavirus cases were recorded over Saturday, bringing the total number of infections confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began to 487,680.

Hospital workers at Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed transport a patient to the coronavirus ward on January 7, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The relatively low number of new cases compared to figures from late last week — on Friday 7,080 were recorded — is due to a significantly reduced number of tests carried out on Saturday, with just over 80,00 conducted compared to nearly 120,000 on Friday. A total of 6.3 percent of tests came back positive, the ministry said.

There were 68,933 active cases. Of the 1,029 serious cases, 240 people were on ventilators. Another 308 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The rise in coronavirus cases comes as Israel pushes ahead with its vaccination campaign, starting to administer second doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to the public Sunday, precisely three weeks after it began its national inoculation drive.

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