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Ministers impose, extend virus lockdowns on northern Israeli Arab towns

Locality of Bu’eine Nujeidat and Golan Heights Druze town of Majdal Shams to see closure of almost all businesses as entry and exit from both will be restricted until Thursday

Illustrative: A woman stands next to a makeshift checkpoint in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on April 9, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Illustrative: A woman stands next to a makeshift checkpoint in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights on April 9, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Government ministers decided Friday to impose a week-long local lockdown on the northern Arab Israeli locality of Bu’eine Nujeidat and to extend the closure of the Druze town of Majdal Shams due to high coronavirus infection rates in both.

Meeting after the co-called coronavirus committee decided early Friday morning to lift a series of restrictions on various business next week as some students return to school, the ad-hoc Ministerial Committee for Restricted Areas decided to impose severe limitations in the two towns until next Thursday.

Outgoing coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu told ministers Friday that the closure on Majdal Shams should be extended as infection rates there had not dropped sufficiently. He also proposed that a closure be imposed on Bu’eine Nujeidat, which has also seen a sharp rise in cases.

Speaking at the meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, Gamzu said that seven other cities with high infection rates, mostly with majority Arab populations, may need to face similar lockdowns: Taybeh, Kafr Kanna, Manar, Deir al-Asad, Kafr Kassem, Kafr Qara and I’billin.

In addition to a closure of almost all businesses, entry and exit from both Bu’eine Nujeidat and Majdal Shams will be restricted. The nationwide opening of schools for grades 1-4 will be delayed there but kindergartens, which reopened last week, will continue to operate.

 

A picture taken from the Syrian town Ain al-Tineh shows the Druze town of Majdal Shams on the Israeli Golan Heights on March 26, 2019. (Louai Beshara/AFP)

Last week, Majdal Shams, located near the Syrian border in the Golan Heights, became the first Israeli town to face a citywide lockdown since Israel lifted hot zone restrictions from all areas except for one Jerusalem neighborhood, as part of the so-called traffic light plan. Under the plan, areas are graded by morbidity rates and assigned a color-coded designation. Red zones, those with the highest infection rates, are to be locked down and activities there heavily restricted.

Israel began a month-long lockdown on September 18 that succeeded in bringing down surging infection rates but also paralyzed much of the economy and public life, as well as shuttering the entire education system.

As nationwide numbers continue to fall, ministers in the coronavirus cabinet decided to move forward the reopening of synagogues to Sunday, but said that street stores must remain closed until at least November 8.

People walk past a closed shop at the Tel Aviv port, October 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said on Friday morning that 1.8 percent of the 36,318 tests carried out on Thursday came back positive, the lowest positivity rate since June.

The general decline in the number of tests over the past several weeks, however, has led to expressions of concern from health officials.

There were 630 new coronavirus cases confirmed on Thursday, taking the total number of infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 313,590.

According to ministry data, there were 11,254 active cases in Israel, including 410 COVID-19 patients in serious condition — 190 of them on ventilators — and 101 in moderate condition.

There were three additional fatalities overnight, taking the national death toll to 2,511.

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