Lockdowns came into effect at 1 p.m. on Friday in neighborhoods in five towns and cities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, a day after cabinet ministers approved the measure as the number of new cases in Israel continued to surge.
Parts of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Lod, Ramle and Kiryat Malachi became “restricted zones” for seven days. The restrictions will be lifted at 8 a.m. on July 17.
A joint statement Thursday evening by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry said entries and exits of the restricted areas will be limited, as well as traffic and business activity inside the areas.
In Jerusalem, the neighborhoods of Romema, Kiryat Sanz and Matersdorf — all majority ultra-Orthodox areas — have been 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.
The Kiryat Malachi municipality on Friday decided to suspend all schools and kindergartens in the city due to the rise in infections there.
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, however, criticized the lockdown order, claiming it would cause “mass infections.”
“These people will go out and infect everyone in their neighborhood,” he told the Kan public broadcaster. “The solution for the coronavirus is to isolate the carriers. I have asked to be handed the authority to evacuate the carriers to [quarantine] hotels until they recover.”
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, as of Friday morning, there were 2,316 confirmed active cases, with 1,089 new patients diagnosed over the past week, according to the Health Ministry. The other cities also have seen a one-week rise in cases of over 100 percent, with Kiryat Malachi seeing a spike of 368%.
The cabinet ministers’ decision had followed a recommendation 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.
On Friday morning, the Health Ministry reported 1,684 new virus cases since Thursday morning, the highest 24-hour tally since the start of the pandemic, with the total number of infections in Israel up to 35,631.
The ministry also announced two new fatalities since Thursday evening, bringing the COVID-19 death toll to 350.
According to ministry figures, there are 16,739 active virus cases. This included 130 people in serious condition, of whom 42 were on ventilators. Another 91 people were in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.
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.
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.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has reportedly warned the country could return to a nationwide lockdown if the number of daily virus cases surpasses 2,000.