Tue, 26 May 2020

Israel meets opposition in imposing Covid-19 crackdown

Leen Alfaisal - Al Arabiya
05 Apr 2020, 20:10 GMT+10

Videos circulating on social media show Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Israeli town of Bnei Brak coughing on police and calling them "murderers" and "Nazis" amid efforts by the government to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Israeli police threw up metal barricades and roadblocks on Friday to enforce a lockdown on the town which has been badly affected by COVID-19.

One of the videos shows a boy, around 11-years-old, chanting "Nazis" and forcing a cough on everything around him. In the background a man is shown to be sneezing on another dressed in a police uniform.

Medical experts estimate that as many as 38 percent of Bnai Brak's 200,000 residents are infected with coronavirus and that the town could soon account for as many as 30 percent of cases in Israel's 8.7 million population.

The city has become a lightning rod for anger and frustration by some secular Israelis who allege insular Haredi communities - with disproportionately high numbers of confirmed cases - are undermining national efforts to contain the virus.

The pandemic also has threatened to upend deep-seated customs in the religious world, including blind obedience to religious leaders and the belief that religious studies and traditions take precedence over the rules of a modern state.

Emergency regulations approved by the cabinet late Thursday declared Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, a "restricted zone" due to its high rate of infections. The new designation allows authorities to tighten curbs on public movement.

Police units, wearing surgical masks and gloves, moved swiftly early on Friday to cordon off major intersections around the town and enforce the new rules.

"Bnei Brak is on lockdown, as of this morning, and police will prevent any movements in or out of the city," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

"People are only allowed in or out for medical reasons or medical support," he added.

This is due to Bnai Brak's population density, which Israeli officials say is almost 100 times higher than the national average. Many residents are poor and some have heeded rabbis who, distrusting the state, spurned anti-virus measures.

With the elderly especially prone to the illness, Israel's military plans to evacuate 4,500 people aged 80 and above in the town, and place them in isolation in hostels requisitioned by the armed forces.

Israel has reported at least 34 deaths and close to 7,000 cases of coronavirus. Tight curbs have confined Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to close and sending unemployment over 24 percent. All Israelis have been ordered to wear face masks. "We ask you, citizens of Israel, all of you, to wear masks in the public sphere," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said when the order was announced on Wednesday.

Source: Al Arabiya

(Photo credit: Times of Israel).

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