The government met Thursday night to approve a full, military-enforced closure on the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak as 10 people died in Israel from coronavirus - the highest number in one day so far – and infections worldwide soared to more than a million people.
Armed troops from the IDF’s Paratrooper Brigade will be deployed to Bnei Brak to work with the Homefront Command.
IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said that the troops will have personal protective equipment like the police and will help the Homefront Command with logistics, evacuating the sick and giving out food to high-risk populations. He told reporters that several hundred troops – two battalions’ worth – will be a significant increase in the role of the IDF to the country’s fight against the pandemic and are undergoing special training for the mission.
There are some 12,000 IDF soldiers and 3,000 vehicles taking part in the military’s effort against the virus, and “next week there will be many more,” Zilberman said.
The move comes as a report by the Health Ministry revealed Thursday that one in seven Israelis who are sick with the novel coronavirus are from Bnei Brak.
There are now 900 people in the city confirmed to have COVID-19, an increase of 177 patients in the last 24 hours – about 25%. Compare this to Jerusalem: The capital's 900,000 residents have 916 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 15% from the day before.
In contrast, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Petah Tikva and Haifa have all begun to stabilize: There are 324 cases in Tel Aviv (up 8%) and 127 in Petah Tikva (up 2%). In Haifa, the number did not rise at all and remains at 81.
At a meeting of the Knesset coronavirus committee on Thursday, Maccabi Health Services CEO Prof. Ran Saar said that his fund handles the healthcare of half of the city’s residents and, “according to various indications, about 38% of the residents of Bnei Brak are ill, which is 75,000 people.”
He said that if the city is not policed over Passover, "the situation will worsen. Bnei Brak is a city with a high percentage of elderly people. We will find ourselves with a lot of dead people in Bnei Brak."
WITH SUCH a high rate of infection, some 4,500 elderly residents of the city aged 80 years and over will be evacuated from the city and placed into isolation in quarantine facilities operated by the Homefront Command at a cost of NIS 75 million.
There are currently eight hotels that have been transformed into coronavirus quarantine facilities run by the command.
In addition, the new restrictions will make it very difficult for people to enter or exit the city. Residents will only be allowed to leave to receive medical care that they cannot get in the area, to handle required legal matters, to attend a funeral of an immediate family member or to transfer children between parents in the case of divorce. Local police officers, soldiers and medical professionals will be allowed to leave to fulfil their civic duties.
The only people who will be allowed in will be rescue workers, police, soldiers, health, social or welfare workers and journalists. Access will also be granted to bury the dead or distribute food and other essential items.
“Instead of making statements at 9 p.m. and complimenting himself, the prime minister should have focused on Bnei Brak,” charged MK Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid-Telem) at Thursday’s committee meeting. “Instead of waiting for God to save us from coronavirus, the health minister should have focused on Bnei Brak.”
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and his wife, Chava, were diagnosed with coronavirus on Thursday, the same day that 10 Israelis died from COVID-19 and the Health Ministry announced that some 6,857 people have been infected in the country.
In total, 36 people have died in Israel from coronavirus and 338 have recovered.
Of the sick people, some 108 are in critical condition; 87 are on ventilators.
Worldwide, the global number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus has surpassed 50,000 and there are more than a million cases. The top five countries with coronavirus are the United States (216,722), Italy (110,574), Spain (110,238), China (82,431) and Germany (77,981), according to data provided by Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University.
DESPITE THE new regulations, a small handful of extremist protesters, reportedly a splinter group from the Jerusalem Faction, which is itself an extremist group, demonstrated in Bnei Brak on Rabbi Akiva Street against the social-distancing orders, describing them as “the awful decrees of destruction of the closure of all Torah study halls and synagogues.”
In addition, radicals from the faction held a prayer service in the Ponovitz Yeshiva, but were soon evicted by the police.
Other members of the same group sought to pray outdoors in several spots in the city, eliciting protests from concerned neighbors who shouted at them from windows and doorways to leave, calling them “heretics” for ignoring the Jewish religious law of protecting one’s own life and that of others.
Coronavirus is plaguing the country financially, too. According to data published by the Israeli Employment Service, the number of unemployment benefit claimants climbed to over 1,036,500 on Thursday, or 24.9% of the workforce.
Since the start of March, almost 880,000 new applications have been received by the Employment Service. Among the new applicants, 89.2% are employees placed on unpaid leave and 6.6% have been made redundant.
In a phone call on Thursday, the government approved an emergency order to provide eligible self-employed workers with a grant worth up to NIS 6,000.
The grant will be paid via the Israel Tax Authority and requires self-employed workers to submit an application form via their personal account on the authority's website. Applications can be submitted within 60 days from April 2.
Thursday, April 2, 2020
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