Israel set for nationwide lockdown from Tuesday afternoon to early Friday

Movement between cities reportedly to be banned for almost three days; Haredi ministers said to have opposed earlier plan for shutdown focused primarily on their community’s areas

An empty street in Jerusalem on April 4, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An empty street in Jerusalem on April 4, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel is set for a nationwide lockdown in the lead-up to the Passover holiday, according to multiple reports, with ministers expected to approve the measure Monday night after ultra-Orthodox members of the cabinet reportedly opposed applying limits only to Haredi cities.

The lockdown is set to take effect at 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, and to remain in force until early Friday morning. In addition, a curfew could be announced on Passover eve, banning all movement outside the home from Wednesday evening until Thursday morning.

A ministerial meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon, during which lockdown measures on eight cities were meant to be authorized, was canceled shortly before it was set to start. Instead, ministers will meet for a remote cabinet meeting Monday night during which they are expected to approve new emergency regulations to apply nationwide.

The closure is to be extended to the entire country, rather than a handful of cities, after ultra-Orthodox ministers — United Torah Judaism chair Yaakov Litzman and Shas chair Aryeh Deri — protested the restrictions being rolled out largely in Haredi areas.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri (left), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at the weekly cabinet meeting in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jerusalem, December 20, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to multiple Hebrew media reports, the lockdown would prevent most Israelis from leaving the municipal boundaries of their own cities, though they would be allowed to shop for essential supplies within the borders of their cities or regions within the cities.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the reports and would not confirm or deny whether a nationwide lockdown was being considered or why the ministerial meeting had been delayed.

On Sunday, Deri said the government was considering imposing a general lockdown over all of Israel ahead of the Passover holiday.

Deri, the interior minister, told Channel 12 that the potential nationwide closure was aimed at stopping extended families from gathering Wednesday night for the Passover Seder, the first eve of the seven-day festival, which is traditionally celebrated in large groups.

Deri called for Israelis to prepare for the potential closure and said anyone driving that evening could be stopped by police.

Speaking Monday morning, Health Ministry Deputy Director Itamar Grotto said a closure appeared to be the most likely course of action.

“Will there be a total closure on the Seder? As it seems right now, the answer is yes,” he told Army Radio. “There will be strong enforcement in this regard so that everyone will [celebrate the festival] with his or her family only.”

Earlier Monday ministers were reportedly poised to rule on enforcing a tighter closure over only eight cities and 15 ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

The cities that were set to be included in the decision were Tiberias, Elad, Migdal Haemek, Beitar Illit, Ashkelon, Or Yehuda, Modiin Illit, and parts of Beit Shemesh.

The Jerusalem neighborhoods that were to be sealed were Har Nof, Bayit Vegan, Givat Mordechai, Ramat Shlomo, Sanhedria, Shmuel Hanavi, Beit Yisrael, Mea Shearim, Geula, Bucharim, Zichron Moshe, Ramot, Makor Baruch, Givat Shaul, and Kiryat Moshe.

Ministers were also expected to approve extending the lockdown of Bnei Brak — which began on Friday after the ultra-Orthodox town recorded one of Israel’s largest outbreaks of the coronavirus — for a further week.

In addition to Bnei Brak, all of the cities and neighborhoods have a high population of ultra-Orthodox citizens.

Israelis are already banned from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes, with exceptions made for work and purchasing essential supplies.

Israeli police officers check vehicles at a checkpoint in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, on April 3, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Early Monday morning, the cabinet adopted several decisions to allow the government to close off cities and neighborhoods across Israel and the West Bank.

The cabinet, which met via telephone, authorized a ministerial committee to declare various areas in Israel with high infection rates “restricted areas,” and gave the same powers to the Israel Defense Forces commander in the West Bank.

The cabinet statement, issued after midnight, did not say who the members of the committee would be.

According to Ynet, two cities, Migdal Haemek and Or Yehuda, were set to be included on the list to meet the demand of Health Minister Litzman and Deri, who insisted that not only areas with large ultra-Orthodox populations be put under lockdown. Both ministers were reported to have voiced opposition to further lockdowns on ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of at least 53 people in Israel as of Monday afternoon, with over 8,400 people confirmed to be carriers of the virus.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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