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Israel to lock down 8 towns and parts of Jerusalem

What happened: The Israeli Cabinet last night approved plans to implement lock downs and closures in eight Israeli towns and several neighbourhoods in Jerusalem, many of them ultra-Orthodox communities, in a bid to combat the coronavirus outbreak. The closures will be slightly looser than the wholesale closure imposed around Bnei Brak last week, and will last initially for seven days.

  • The towns included on the list are: Elad, Modiin Illit, Beitar Illit, Beit Shemesh, Tiberias, Ashkelon, Migdal Haemek and Or Yehuda.
  • The 15 neighbourhoods in Jerusalem include: Har Nof, Mea Shearim, Ramot and Givat Mordechai, with several Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem potentially included in future.
  • Similar to the closure around Bnei Brak, enforcement will be led by the Israel Police via checkpoints, patrols and surveillance of those breaking Health Ministry guidelines. The IDF Home Front Command will play a supporting role, in particular providing food to local residents.
  • Unlike the full-scale closure around Bnei Brak, the new restrictions on the above areas will still allow residents to enter and exit for work.
  • A special ministerial committee approved plans to allow the IDF’s Central Command to declare “restricted zones” around settlements in the West Bank.

Context: As of this morning 8,600 Israelis have been infected with the coronavirus, of which 107 are intubated. 51 Israelis have died.

  • The rate of exponential growth has slowed in Israel, leading some to assess that the country is succeeding in “flattening the curve.” However, most experts warned that the upcoming Passover, Easter and Ramadan holidays could reverse all the gains made after nearly four weeks of national lockdown.
  • Critics both within government and in the opposition continued to highlight the low level of testing nationally. In recent days the number of tests conducted daily vacillated between 5,000 and 7,000, well below the 10,000 figure promised by health officials. The reason for the delay was attributed to a shortage in reagents necessary for the tests.
  • Many officials, including Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, have demanded that Israel increase its daily testing capacity, although the Health Ministry is believed to not see the move as a necessary precondition for containing the virus and lifting the lockdown restrictions.
  • Israel Hayom reported today that IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi sent a letter to Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, requesting that the IDF be given lead responsibility for managing the crisis, including running the national testing programme, data analysis, and logistics. So far the IDF has only played a supporting role to the Health Ministry.

Looking ahead: The government is believed to be preparing to implement a fully enforced lockdown for the entire country on Passover Eve (this Wednesday). Various ministers have indicated that no one should be travelling outside of their homes, not even to close relatives. The Israel Police are expected to be deployed en masse on the evening to stop any movement.