Deri denies Litzman and he insisted on national, rather than localized, lockdown
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Deri denies Litzman and he insisted on national, rather than localized, lockdown

Interior minister says country-wide closure had been under discussion for weeks, rejects reports he and health minister thwarted plans to restrict only some ultra-Orthodox areas

Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri, left, speaks with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman during a meeting in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri, left, speaks with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman during a meeting in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party firmly denied Monday that, along with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, he pushed the cabinet for a nationwide lockdown on Passover — rather than applying strict limitations only on certain predominantly ultra-Orthodox areas most hard hit by coronavirus.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night announced the lockdown of all Israeli cities between Tuesday afternoon and Friday morning, which will prevent Israelis from leaving their municipal boundaries (though they will be allowed to shop for essential supplies within the borders of their cities or regions within the cities). Additionally, a curfew will be enacted between 6 p.m. on Wednesday and 7 a.m. on Friday.

The cabinet was set to meet later Monday to approve the plan. The measures are being introduced to prevent movement during the Passover holiday which begins on Wednesday night, seen as a potentially critical weakpoint in the government’s social distancing efforts.

Deri has previously said a nationwide closure would be aimed at stopping extended families from gathering Wednesday night for the Passover seder, the first eve of the seven-day festival, which is traditionally celebrated in large groups.

Hebrew media reports claimed the closure plan had initially only been intended to be rolled out in largely ultra-Orthodox areas where there has been a wide virus outbreak. But that the plan was extended to the entire country after the two ultra-Orthodox ministers — United Torah Judaism party chair Litzman and Shas party chair Deri — protested the notion.

Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, Deri said that a national lockdown for the start of Passover had been discussed three weeks ago, and the decision to restrict movement between cities across the country was taken on the advice of security and health officials, not because he and Litzman had pushed for the plan.

He confirmed that over the past two days there had been talk in the cabinet of a stricter lockdown only on a few places where the virus was most prevalent, but said the idea was dropped because ministers felt there was little point in restricting some areas when there was a national lockdown planned anyway.

Israeli police officers at a checkpoint located at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 5, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Though he said he would support increased enforcement after the upcoming Passover holiday in areas where there is a higher virus incident rate, Deri avoided specifically saying he would agree to strict lockdowns on certain communities.

Deri urged that public discourse move away from discussion of particular communities being infected with the virus, saying, “We are all in this together.”

When pressed by Kan newscaster Doria Lampel about earlier reports that he and Litzman had brought about the wider lockdown, Deri became agitated.

“I still don’t understand what changed overnight,” Lampel said, referring to reports from Sunday that increased restrictions would only be applied to some areas.

“Then you have problems with comprehension,” Deri shot back.

Lampel then closed the interview.

A ministerial meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon, during which lockdown measures on eight cities were meant to be authorized, was canceled shortly before it was set to start. The meeting was said to have been poised to rule on enforcing a tighter closure over only the eight cities and 15 ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Ministers were also said ready to approve extending a lockdown of Bnei Brak — which began on Friday after the ultra-Orthodox town recorded one of Israel’s largest outbreaks of the coronavirus — for a further week.

Police officers at a checkpoint located at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 5, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Litzman, 71, was last week diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, making him the highest ranking Israeli official to get the disease. He was said to have mild symptoms.

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of 57 people in Israel as of Monday evening, with over 8,904 people confirmed to be carriers of the virus.

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