Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods go into lockdown to stop virus spread

Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods go into lockdown to stop virus spread

Residents of neighborhoods with high infection rates confined to one of seven zones, but can leave for work or other essential needs; 100 checkpoints and 1,000 cops enforce closure

Israeli Police officers at a temporary "checkpoint"  in Jerusalem on April 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israeli Police officers at a temporary "checkpoint" in Jerusalem on April 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Several Jerusalem neighborhoods with high coronavirus infection rates went into lockdown Sunday afternoon, with around 100 checkpoints set up around the capital.

Over 1,000 police officers and soldiers have been mobilized in the capital to enforce the regulations.

The order to close off parts of the city starting at noon Sunday was approved by the government following a late-night cabinet meeting and days of discussion on how to contain the spread of the virus in the capital, which has led Israel in the number of confirmed cases with nearly 2,000.

According to Health Ministry data, about 75 percent of the infections in Jerusalem have occurred in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, most of which will now be locked down.

The government approved locking down four of the capital’s seven zones delineated ahead of Passover: Zone 1, which covers northeast Jerusalem; Zone 2, which covers northwest Jerusalem; Zone 3, which covers southwest Jerusalem, and Zone 5, which covers much of the city center.

Among the included neighborhoods: Har Nof, Mea Shearim, Geula, the Bukharim Quarter, Romema, Sanhedria, Neve Yaakov, Ramat Shlomo and Makor Baruch.

In each zone, several neighborhoods were excluded from the quarantine:

  • Zone 1 exceptions: The Atarot industrial zone, Kafr Akab, Beit Hanina, Pisgat Ze’ev and the Hashalom neighborhood.
  • Zone 2 exceptions:  Har Hotzvim industrial zone, Arazim Valley Park and Motza Valley Park.
  • Zone 3 exceptions: Givat Shaul industrial zone, Beit Hakerem, Her Herzl administrative area, Yuvalim, Ganim, Kiryat Dania and Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital.
  • Zone 5 exceptions: The Government Quarter administrative area and Beit David, which includes the Old City.

The quarantined neighborhoods include almost all of the areas of the city with large ultra-Orthodox populations, but also includes some other areas as well, including part of the city center and the Ramot neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, which has both ultra-Orthodox enclaves and more secular areas.

According to Health Ministry data released last week, Har Nof had 118 infections out of a population of some 17,000, making it the area with the highest infection rate in the country. Another 416 cases were confirmed in “northern Jerusalem Haredi neighborhoods” out of a population of below 80,000.

There were over 1,800 total cases in the city and at least 21 residents have died of the disease. according to Health Ministry data released Saturday.

As of Saturday afternoon, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide stood at 10,743, with 101 people having died of the virus. Over 1,300 have recovered from the disease, according to the latest Health Ministry figures.

Residents of locked down neighborhoods will be confined to their zones and will not be able to exit to other areas, except for work, essential medical treatment, funerals of immediate relatives, transferring children between separated parents, court appointments or other essential needs given prior approval by authorities.

Israeli police officers patrol on Jaffa street in downtown Jerusalem on April 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The restrictions matches an eased lockdown in place in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, which had previously been completely locked down.

According to reports, the plan to divide Jerusalem and lock down certain areas faced considerable opposition from some in the cabinet and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

Lion was reported to have told cabinet officials: “Take the Ramot neighborhood for example — 60,000 residents and 140 of them sick. Why do we need to close off the whole neighborhood?”

Israeli Police officers wearing protective clothing in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, April 6, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At least two cabinet members, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who has the disease, live in areas that have been locked down.

Netanyahu and Deri, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party were reported to engage in a heated argument Thursday night during which Deri said he felt that the Health Ministry was “quick on the trigger” when it came to imposing restrictions on Haredi communities.

The lockdown orders do not include necessarily evacuating those who have the disease to supervised facilities, meaning they could end up turning into virus incubators.

It was not immediately clear how authorities would enforce the lockdown, which will come into effect hours after it will become illegal for Israelis to leave the home without facemasks.

A Border Policeman inspects the papers of a a driver at an exit of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on April 3, 2020 (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The past week saw a nearly four-day lockdown on all Israeli communities due to the Passover holiday. The curfew saw the populace confined to their hometowns between Tuesday evening and Friday morning. During that time, Jerusalem residents were confined to one of seven delineated zones dividing the city.

Health officials had reportedly pushed for the nationwide lockdown to be extended until the end of Passover on April 15, but were shot down by the Finance Ministry, which has warned of lasting damage to the nation’s economy if the longer restrictions remain in place.

The mainly ultra-Orthodox Bnei Brak, which is the country’s second most infected community (1,594 cases as of Thursday) despite having a far smaller population, has been closed off from the rest of the country for the past 10 days. On Friday restrictions were eased somewhat, with residents allowed to travel outside the city for work and some other essential needs.

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