Creeping toward curfew: Israel moving to lockdown in stages

The prime minister announced that if people do not follow health guidelines, he will have no choice but to order a complete shutdown to contain the coronavirus.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Wednesday night that if the citizens of Israel do not strictly follow the Health Ministry’s strictures against public gatherings, he “won’t hesitate” to order the country’s complete shutdown in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

He said he has not done so yet because of its disastrous effect on the economy and his belief that Israel has done better than almost any other country in limiting the contagion. However, there are many professional voices saying that a lockdown is inevitable.

Dr. Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, explained his reasoning as follows: “According to the data we have, it seems that at this stage there is still no widespread outbreak of corona in Israel. This further emphasizes the need to get even stricter with the steps, up to a full closure, so that we can preserve a low level of morbidity for as long as possible.”

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said earlier on Wednesday that the police are ready to patrol the streets and block roads in and out of cities to enforce a total shutdown if and when it is declared.

Even under such conditions, the authorities stressed that people would be able to leave their homes in order to buy food and medicines, and see the doctor.

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Even while trying to speak optimistically, the prime minister emphasized that not everyone has been following the rules set by the health ministry, pointing especially to two sectors which have been ignoring the rules against public assembly.

“Tonight, I turn to two communities that have not internalized [the rules] – the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab communities. If the guidelines won’t be internalized, then I won’t hesitate to do it by order…. It’s a matter of life and death,” he said.

Hebrew media has reported extensively on the refusal of leading rabbis in the ultra-Orthodox sector to shut down their institutions of Torah learning. It is their firm belief that such learning serves to protect the Jewish people and even the world. Police requesting the institutions to close were turned away because they had no court order.

The Health Ministry’s legal adviser sent out an order Wednesday forbidding all activity in all haredi educational institutions. He specified pre-schools, primary schools, girls’ seminaries, boys’ yeshivas, and married men’s study centers.

In reaction, the head of Lithuanian Jewry, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, told his followers that the learning centers for young men should stay open, but only in keeping with the guidelines of having groups of 10 or less and sitting two meters apart.

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Other recent measures by Israel include closing Israel’s borders to all foreigners and ordering all public transportation to cease after 8:00 p.m. until early morning and not run at all on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Shin Bet has also begun tracking the paths of corona victims through their cellphones to find those who were recently in their close vicinity and has sent messages to over 400 people to isolate themselves as a result.