Ministers expected to approve lockdown on 8-10 high infection areas

Bnei Brak, Elad, Tira, Umm al-Fahm, Kafr Qassem said among localities slated for sweeping measures; police increase presence in red zones; 9.8% of tests on Saturday were positive

Illustrative -- Police at a checkpoint located on the edge of the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on April 3, 2020 (Gili Yaari /Flash90)
Illustrative -- Police at a checkpoint located on the edge of the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on April 3, 2020 (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu is expected on Sunday to present ministers with a list of eight to 10 localities that should be placed under full lockdown due to high infection rates.

According to Channel 12 news, they are expected to include Bnei Brak, Elad, Tira, Umm al-Fahm and Kafr Qassem, but the full list has not yet been confirmed.

A number of additional major population centers are also in danger of turning into “red” areas due to surging numbers of infections, according to Hebrew-media reports, including Ashdod, Beit Shemesh, Rahat and Netivot.

Gamzu clarified on Friday that the sweeping new restrictions approved by the so-called coronavirus cabinet in “red” localities with high infection rates would not include full lockdown measures in some 30 cities and towns, as had been reported.

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu (front left) speaks at a meeting with local Arab leaders in Daliat el-Carmel, September 5, 2020 (Screen grab/Kan)

The measures under discussion for “red” cities include banning entry and exit, keeping residents within 500 meters of their homes, stopping public transportation, and closing non-essential businesses and all schools save for daycare facilities and special education programs.

Red zones that aren’t under full closure are expected to have evening curfews and all non-essential businesses and schools save for daycare facilities and special education programs closed. However, there are not expected to be restrictions on entry and exit.

Though there is no official word yet on which cities will be locked down, the cities and towns designated “red” as of Sunday morning are:

Kafr Qassem, Lakiya, Yakir, Ein Mahil, Daliyat al-Karmel, Tira, Kfar Aza, Jaljulya, Maale Iron, Emmanuel, Assafiya, Beit Jann, Kasra-Samia, Beitar Illit, Ka’abiyye-Tabbash-Hajajre, Tiberias, Umm al-Fahm, Fureidis, Buqata, Jatt, Rechasim, Aabalin, Kafr Kanna, Kafr Bara, Taibe, Bnei Brak, Arara, Zemer, Abu Snan, Qalansawe, Elad, Sheikh Danun and Nazareth.

Additionally the following Jerusalem neighborhoods have also been designated as “red”: the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian Quarters of the Old City, Shuafat, Shuafat Refugee Camp and Anatot industrial zone, Issawiya, A-Tur, Al Shaykh, Al Sawana, Bab a-Zahara, Wadi al-Joz and Sheikh Jarrah.

People walk in Jerusalem’s Old City on August 10, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Many of the localities where the new restrictions will take effect are majority-Arab and ultra-Orthodox areas.

According to Channel 12 news, police presence has been increased on Sunday morning in the cities with high infection rates in a bid to increase enforcement of regulations.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri came out Saturday night against the local lockdown plan and claimed only a nationwide closure could reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases per day.

“No one has succeeded in bringing down the numbers with another method,” Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told Channel 12 news.

“The plan isn’t the cure, it’s a tool for managing the crisis,” said Deri.

Health Ministry director Chezy Levy said Friday that a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the virus was still on the table.

An Orthodox Jewish talmudic seminary student wearing protective gear prays at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussil/Flash90)

Israel on Saturday passed the grim landmark of 1,000 deaths due to the novel coronavirus, according to the Health Ministry, becoming the 49th country in the world to do so.

In all, 14 new deaths were recorded over Shabbat, bringing the number of people in Israel to have succumbed to COVID-19 to 1,007, a toll that remained steady on Sunday morning.

Even as testing rates plummeted over the weekend to just 15,804 on Saturday, there were 1,482 new infections, the Health Ministry said Sunday morning. The percentage of positive tests stood at a worrying 9.8%.

In total there have been 129,173 cases since the start of the pandemic, 26,062 of which are active.

There were 434 patients hospitalized in serious condition, of whom 120 were being treated with ventilators, the Health Ministry said. Additionally 132 people were in a moderate condition.

The Kan public broadcaster reported on Sunday that a woman in her 20s was in critical condition at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon after she was transferred from a facility in the north of the country. The woman was said to have underlying health conditions.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at the Health Ministry, on Saturday told local Arab leaders that she believed that people were complacent as they didn’t know that many young people were in critical condition with COVID-19.

“There is probably a lack of understanding of this disease. There are young people aged in their 30s and 40s,” she said. “They are in serious condition, critical. They are on ventilators. It’s no longer 80-year-olds with four underlying health conditions and terminal cancer. It is young people. People don’t understand this and they are inviting 1,000 people to weddings.”

Israel has struggled to contain the second wave of the coronavirus, and officials have begun to increasingly consider localized lockdowns in high infection areas.

According to figures aired Thursday by Israeli television, Israel has the highest rate of new infections per capita in the world, by weekly average.

Medical staff wearing protective clothes work at the coronavirus ward of Shamir Medical Center (Assaf Harofeh), in Be’er Ya’akov, southeast of Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a meeting with Arab community leaders on Saturday, Gamzu warned there could be hundreds of deaths among Arab Israeli within weeks if infection rates continued to rise.

“Every day there are around 750 new infections in Arab communities, and that will increase to 800. If you take half a percent, or 1%, within three or four weeks — that is the statistic — hospitalized in serious condition, what does that mean? It starts at four or five a day, then reaches dozens and could even get to hundreds of deaths per day,” Gamzu said at the meeting in the northern Druze town of Daliyat el-Karmel.

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