Essential jobs. Workers at a factory in Bnei Brak make matzah for Passover on Tuesday. (Guy Prives/Getty Images)

Israel Imposes Tough New Coronavirus-related Restrictions (with VIDEO REPORT)

With confirmed cases rising and Passover nearing, people are confined to home from Wednesday evening until Thursday morning

 

Israel is banning inter-city travel before tightening restrictions for Passover eve in order to slow the spread of coronavirus.

From Tuesday evening until Friday, intercity travel is prohibited, according to new regulations issued by the Israeli cabinet on Tuesday morning. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the evening before that inter-city movement would stop at 4 p.m.

From late Wednesday afternoon until Thursday morning, Israelis will in effect be under curfew, being forbidden from movement of more than 100 yards from home. The traditional Passover Seder meal is held on Wednesday evening.

So far, Israel has recorded at least 60 deaths from COVID-19, and has diagnosed just over 9,000 cases.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Media Line that the police and military will enforce a strict curfew in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, where the incidence of the disease is higher.

“The prime minister has decided to prevent movement in and around the neighborhoods of Bnei Brak,” he said, referring to an almost entirely ultra-Orthodox city just outside Tel Aviv.

Movement in and out of these areas had already been restricted. People in essential jobs are the exception.

While many Israelis have accused the ultra-Orthodox population of initially ignoring Health Ministry guidelines, others say the government did not respond quickly enough when it became clear that certain regulations were not being followed.

Many residents of Bnei Brak speak Yiddish, which may have made it harder for them to understand the guidelines in Hebrew. In addition, few residents have television or internet.

Two percent of Israel’s population lives in Bnei Brak yet the city accounts for more than 15% of the country’s confirmed COVID-19 cases; 40% of its residents have the disease.

The government has struggled to gain the cooperation of these communities.

Rosenfeld says the police are working hard in ultra-Orthodox communities to spread word about both the disease and the government’s guidelines, and have enlisted the support of local religious leaders.

“The people inside Bnei Brak, for example, as well as in Jerusalem in [the neighborhood of] Mea She’arim, are not online,” he said. “They don’t have mobile phones. They don’t have TVs. They don’t listen to the radio. They aren’t in touch with what is going on outside.”

The police “are contacting the rabbis, the leaders, and making sure that they get the message out,” he added.

Yehuda, who lives in Bnei Brak and asked that his last name not be used, told The Media Line he feels that his community has been singled out.

“It’s really crazy…. I think that it’s only because we are ultra-Orthodox here, that they are taking a hard line. I think that all around Israel, [the spread is] the same,” he said.

“People think now that the ultra-Orthodox are sources of the disease. They forget it came from China, it came from South Korea, not from Bnei Brak,” he stated.

“Only in this city do they crack down with the army,” Yehuda chafes, referring to the soldiers brought in to help maintain the closure and distribute food.

“I’m a volunteer,” he said. “People are very poor and I think this is not normal.”

Ornit, from nearby Hod Hasharon, thinks differently. She has a permit to enter Bnei Brak to deliver eggs and says she appreciates the government’s measures.

“I came here to help people I know. I brought them eggs because I know there is a shortage. It’s the second time I’ve come here,” Ornit told The Media Line, also asking that her last name not appear.

“I want to thank the police for the wonderful job they are doing,” she continued. “They are doing holy work. It is the opposite of what is being portrayed on the news. People [in Bnei Brak] tell me they appreciate the work by the police.”

In a televised address on Monday night, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sounded optimistic, saying there were “positive signs of progress” in the fight against coronavirus. He warned, however, that everything depends on whether people abide by the government’s pandemic guidelines.

The country’s predominantly Arab areas, where the Jewish holiday is not celebrated, will be under the usual guidelines banning gatherings and calling for social distancing.

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