Government shutters virus-hit neighborhoods in 5 cities as cases hit new high

Parts of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Lod, Ramle, Kiryat Malachi declared ‘restricted zones’ for 7 days from 1 p.m. Friday; 1,650 infections recorded in 24 hours, a single-day record

Israeli police enforce emergency coronavirus regulations in Jerusalem, July 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli police enforce emergency coronavirus regulations in Jerusalem, July 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Cabinet ministers on Thursday ordered lockdowns on neighborhoods in five towns and cities as the number of new coronavirus cases in Israel surged to a record high.

Parts of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Lod, Ramle and Kiryat Malachi were declared “restricted zones” for seven days, starting at 1 p.m. on Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry said in a joint statement. The restrictions will be lifted at 8 a.m. on July 17.

In the restricted areas, entries and exits will be limited, as well as traffic and business activity inside the area, the statement said, without elaborating.

The Health Ministry was also set to order restrictions on educational activities for children age 10 and up in Modiin Illit, Beit Shemesh and parts of Ashdod.

In Jerusalem, the neighborhoods of Romema, Kiryat Sanz and Matersdorf — all majority ultra-Orthodox areas — are being closed; in Beit Shemesh, the areas of Nahala and K’ne Habosem; in Lod, Ganei Ya’ar and Sach; in Ramle, Amidar Beilav; and in Kiryat Malachi, the Rotner area and Chabad neighborhood.

Other parts of Lod will be closed for five days.

In Jerusalem, as of Wednesday night, there were 2,033 confirmed active cases, representing a seven-day increase of 121 percent, the statement said. The other cities also had a one-week rise in cases of over 100%, with Kiryat Malachi seeing a spike of 368%.

The cabinet ministers’ decision followed a recommendation on the closures issued by the Health Ministry earlier Thursday.

On Tuesday, the West Bank settlement city of Beitar Illit was declared a restricted zone for seven days, as coronavirus infections there spiked.

Earlier Thursday, the Health Ministry reported 1,650 new virus cases since Wednesday evening, the highest 24-hour tally since the start of the pandemic, with the total number of infections in Israel up to 34,825.

The ministry also announced two new fatalities since Thursday morning, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 348. The Health Ministry did not update its figures on Thursday at night, as it usually does.

According to ministry figures, there are 16,025 active virus cases – 1,509 more than Wednesday. This included 122 people in serious condition, of whom 39 were on ventilators. Another 87 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

The decision to impose further lockdowns came after mayors of several cities were reportedly outraged when they heard via media reports on Wednesday that they were included in the list of areas set for new restrictions.

The heads of cities set for lockdowns were informed ahead of time, before Thursday’s meeting, Channel 12 news reported.

As the health crisis intensifies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a tide of anger and criticism over the government’s handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic, with polls indicating growing disapproval of his stewardship of the economy.

Netanyahu on Thursday evening unveiled a new financial aid package for businesses and workers who lost their livelihood due to the closures, acknowledging that some government steps to reopen the economy had been premature, causing the current significant wave of infection.

In a press conference from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said the reopening of much of the economy had in retrospect been instituted “too early.”

“I take responsibility for this step, and I take responsibility for fixing it,” he said.

Unemployment at its height reached over 25 percent, with over a million Israelis out of work; now, over 800,000 are still unemployed, with that figure again starting to climb in light of renewed restrictions put in place to combat the spike in infections.

The last few weeks have seen the reversal of many of the gains made in the fight against the coronavirus in recent months. The country had been placed on a nationwide lockdown for several weeks at the start of the outbreak, but removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy.

The current rate of increase in weekly infections in Israel is one of the highest in the world, according to a chart published Monday afternoon by the Health Ministry.

With hospitalization rates taking a few weeks to show a rise following increases in cases, the Health Ministry on Thursday told hospitals to prepare for a coming influx of patients.

A letter sent by the ministry to the heads of all hospitals told them to expect a rise in “the amount of patients requiring hospitalization and the need to prepare for the epidemic, in order to provide optimal care to patients.”

As such, the Health Ministry recommended reopening coronavirus wards and that “each hospital operate immediately, as you have already been instructed, a separate screening environment where respiratory or other patients suspected [to have] COVID-19 will be screened.”

The government on Monday passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed outbreak, including limiting the number of people at restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, hiking fines for not wearing face masks, and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.

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