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Ministers vote to ease lockdown in northern Haredi town

Citing improved morbidity, PM’s office and Health Ministry say extra restrictions in Rechasim will be lifted overnight

A large sign welcoming visitors to the northern town of Rechasim. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
A large sign welcoming visitors to the northern town of Rechasim. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Ministers on Monday voted to ease lockdown measures in a northern ultra-Orthodox town in line with most of the rest of the country — measures that had remained in effect there due to high infection rates.

The decision to end Rechasim’s designation as a “restricted zone” was due to the improvement in morbidity there, according to a joint statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry.

The decision was to take effect overnight.

According to the Health Ministry, Rechasim has had the fourth-highest number of virus cases per capita of any locality in Israel, but has seen a drop in new infections over the past week.

Rechasim was one of several predominantly Haredi areas previously flagged as COVID-19 hotspots, in which Hebrew media reports said coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu wanted to ease restrictions due to improving rates.

The other areas defined as improving “red zones” were Modiin Illit, Beitar Illit and the Kiryat Mattesdorf neighborhood of Jerusalem. The statement from the PMO and Health Ministry didn’t make any mention of lifting the lockdowns there.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews wait for the bus at the Bar-Ilan junction in Jerusalem on October 19, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As some lockdown rules were eased Sunday around the country, several areas remained under a nearly full closure until at least midnight Wednesday, though kindergartens, preschools and daycares were permitted to reopen everywhere. Besdies those mentioned above, the other red zones, all ultra-Orthodox, include Bnei Brak south of Jabotinsky Street, Elad and the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramat Shlomo, Ramat Eshkol, and Maalot Dafna.

The ultra-Orthodox have seen a disproportionately high number of virus cases. In early October, officials said 40 percent of all new coronavirus infections were among the ultra-Orthodox, though they constitute only approximately 12% of the population.

On Sunday, many ultra-Orthodox Torah-teaching institutions, including in Israel’s worst-affected contagion areas, took in students following instructions from a leading rabbi, despite regulations forbidding them from opening.

The government decided to lift some restrictions around the country after a month-long lockdown successfully drove down infection rates, including striking the one-kilometer limit on travel and reopening the education system for those under the age of 6.

The decisions to lift some restrictions came a week after the Sukkot and Simchat Torah holidays, prompting concerns an outbreak in ultra-Orthodox areas, where gatherings were common and numerous violations were recorded, may not yet be reflected in the official data.

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