‘Bnei Brak like Italy’: Israel’s Health Minister calls for full quarantine

In Bnei Brak, one out of three people tested for the virus is infected. Residents of nearby Ramat Gan demand action and a full lockdown.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The Ministry of Health has announced that one out of three Bnei Brak residents checked for the virus test positive, and the numbers have government officials and residents of nearby Ramat Gan worried.

Bnei Brak, the Tel Aviv suburb with Israel’s highest per capita coronavirus infection rate, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the haredi city has 198,863 residents, giving it a density rate of over 27,000 people per square kilometer.

“What’s happening in Bnei Brak is like what’s happening in Italy,” a senior doctor treating coronavirus patients told Israeli’s Channel 12 news last Friday.

Over the weekend, Channel 12 news reported that at the urging of Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the Ministry of Health was preparing to ask the government for a full lockdown of Bnei Brak.

The report stated that the Ministry of Health had written an injunction specifying that Bnei Brak residents would be allowed to leave their homes strictly “to purchase food, medicines and essential items, within the closed area; to seek medical assistance, even if it is outside of the closed area.”

Residents who work in essential industries would be able to leave the lockdown zone to commute to and from work.

Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein opposed the idea, saying, “We cannot build a new prison called Bnei Brak Prison. Reality won’t enable it. Residents won’t be able to live it down. We cannot make Bnei Brak into a ghetto.”

On Monday, the mayor of Bnei Brak’s neighboring city Ramat Gan, Carmel Shama-HaCohen, told IDF Army Radio, “I’m asking the government to order a complete and total closure of the city of Bnei Brak. While everything that’s happening is heartbreaking, there is no other choice.”

He continued, “The residents of Ramat Gan are worried… and deeply anxious. The alarming figures coming out of Bnei Brak would startle anyone. Six percent of Ramat Gan coronavirus patients were infected at their workplaces in Bnei Brak – this shows the prevalence of infection within the city.”

On Tuesday, the Israeli police seemed to be taking steps towards a full closure of the city, setting up checkpoints near the entrances to Bnei Brak and checking the identification of those wishing to enter.

Last Saturday, after a deluge of comments demanding a wall be built between Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan, Mayor HaCohen responded to his concerned constituents.

“The authority to close an area in a neighborhood or a city lies in the hands of the army and police only,” HaCohen said in his Facebook post on Saturday. “There is no point in endlessly demanding to build a wall or separation fence near Bnei Brak. We do not have the authority nor, obviously, the time to build a wall.”