‘Heavy enforcement’: Police prepare closure crackdown with 5,000 officers

As Israel launches new virus curbs Thursday night, roadblocks will be set up on highways and in cities, but officials tell paper police won’t close Haredi schools that defy rules

Police at a temporary checkpoint at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on December 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police at a temporary checkpoint at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on December 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police on Wednesday were gearing up to enforce tighter lockdown rules set to take effect Thursday night, vowing officers would act against violators.

Government ministers voted Tuesday night in favor of tightening the current nationwide lockdown by shuttering schools and nonessential businesses for two weeks, with the aim of cutting rising daily infections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it “one final effort” to keep COVID-19 at bay, as contagion spreads alarmingly even as Israel continues its vaccination campaign.

Assistant Commissioner Yishai Shalem, the head of the Israel Police’s operations department, said 5,000 officers would be deployed across the country to enforce the rules, including school closures and the shuttering of nonessential businesses.

Checkpoints will be set up on major highways and within towns and cities, he said. The current rules — which have largely been ignored — already limit Israelis from venturing beyond a kilometer from their homes, except for essential reasons.

“To whoever has the feeling the police aren’t enforcing [the lockdown], this is a wrong feeling. There are a lot of fines that are given throughout the day for significant violations,” Shalem said during a press briefing.

He added that officers would treat severely any quarantine violations.

An unnamed official vowed to Channel 13 that there would be “heavy enforcement” of the lockdown.

Border Police enforce coronavirus lockdown rules in downtown Jerusalem on January 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Shalem was asked about police enforcement in ultra-Orthodox areas, after two mass indoor weddings were held Tuesday night despite infections spiraling out of control in the community.

“What you see is the places where the police maybe arrive late,” he said.

However, anonymous police officials told the Haaretz daily that police wouldn’t take action against Haredi schools that remain open in violation of the lockdown.

“You won’t see officers dispersing children at educational institutions and you won’t see officers entering schools and synagogues,” one of the officials said.

Meanwhile, the spiritual leader of large swaths of the ultra-Orthodox community urged his followers to heed the government lockdown regulations and the instructions from the medical establishment.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and his grandson at Yaakov Kanievsky (L) at the former’s home in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on September 22, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

But Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky didn’t refer explicitly to whether schools should remain open, following reports earlier Wednesday that he had instructed Haredi institutions to keep running despite the countrywide shutdown.

Kanievsky has in the past ordered ultra-Orthodox schools to remain open as lockdown measures were in force.

Also Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz held a situational assessment with top military commanders before the tightened lockdown rules come into force.

A statement from Gantz’s office said he ordered the military to reopen coronavirus hotels for members of the ultra-Orthodox community and returning travelers from abroad, and to bar most Palestinian workers from entering Israel during the closure.

“The defense minister instructed, as a rule, to prepare for a closure of Judea and Samaria [West Bank]. In this framework, workers of essential areas will be exempted. If the construction industry remains open in Israel, Palestinian workers will be allowed to enter,” the statement said.

Gantz also said the Israel Defense Forces won’t request additional vaccine doses until all high-risk Israelis and teachers are inoculated, amid a shortage in vaccines.

Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Mitar checkpoint in the southern West Bank on May 5, 2020. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Daily coronavirus cases nationwide have topped 8,000 for the second day in a row, according to Health Ministry figures published Wednesday morning. The highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic was September 30, when over 9,000 infections were recorded while the country was under a second lockdown.

Active cases and serious patients are also nearing an all-time high.

Leading the world in per capita vaccinations, Israel had inoculated some 1.5 million of its 9.3 million populace by late Tuesday, including some 55% of the 60-plus age group.

But the healthcare system is facing a shortage of doses that will force health providers to slow the pace of new inoculations, however.

Health officials have said the country will prioritize second doses in the coming weeks, and that there are enough vaccines to supply those doses to everyone who has received a first dose.

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