Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90
Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem.

Maccabi Health Services CEO Prof. Ran Sa’ar on Thursday morning told the Knesset coronavirus committee about the situation in Bnei Brak, saying “Maccabi treats half of the residents of Bnei Brak, and according to various indications, about 38% of the residents of Bnei Brak are sick, which comes to 75,000 people. I’m calling from here on all the relevant authorities to post police officers there ahead of Passover eve, otherwise the situation there will worsen.”

“Bnei Brak is a city with an unusually high percentage of adults in the population, and if we do not prepare, we’ll find ourselves with a lot of dead people in Bnei Brak,” Prof. Sa’ar warned.

Israeli police officers arrive to close down synagogues in Bnei Brak, April 1, 2020. / Yossi Zamir/Flash90

Committee Chairman MK Ofer Shalah (Yesh Atid-Telem)responded: “The estimate that 75,000 coronavirus patients are expected in Bnei Brak is a cause for alarm and requires immediate action. According to reports from the HMOs, the Haredi public is reluctant to be tested before Passover, and decisions about them at the government level are deficient and influenced by political considerations. The prime minister must shirk any outside considerations and take immediate, massive and focused action to deal with Bnei Brak.”

There is reason to believe that Sa’ar’s numbers might be currently overly pessimistic, as he appears to have based in from the number of people who were checked, which would skew the data, as those people who were checked, were checked because they had symptoms, and that isn’t necessarily reflective on the entire city of Bnei Brak. If there really were that many infected people, we’d would expect to see hundreds of critically ill and dead people in Bnei Brak already.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night announced that “we regret that in certain places, the disease has already spread at a redoubled rate relative to other places. Therefore, in consultation with the Health and Public Security ministries, with ministers Deri and Litzman, and with Rabbi Gafni, we decided to reduce to the necessary minimum entries to, and exits from, the city [of Bnei Brak].

“At the same time, we are evacuating the quarantined and the sick from their homes to designated hotels appropriate to the special way of life of this sector. We are doing this so that they will not infect other family members. I would like to point out that within Bnei Brak, it is possible to move around in keeping with the instructions that apply everywhere else in the country – 100 meters from the building, and so on. ”

Israeli Police set up checkpoints at the entrance to Bnei Brak as part of an effort to enforce a lockdown, March 31, 2020. / Gili Yaari/Flash90

The Health Ministry on Thursday updated the figures of hospital patients and isolated individuals by cities, and the data show that there has been a significant increase in the number of virus carriers in Bnei Brak on Wednesday: 900 people were diagnosed with the virus on Thursday in Bnei Brak, compared to 723 Wednesday.

Jerusalem saw a more moderate increase, 13.5%, and the new number of patients there is 916.

Modi’in Illit saw 15% increase, and the number of patients there is 70.

In non-religious cities, the situation is much better by and large: Tel Aviv recorded a slowdown in the rate of infection, and the number of patients in the city now stands at 324, an increase of less than 8% compared to Wednesday.

In Petah Tikva, the number of patients stands at 127, a rise of less than 2% from Wednesday’s 121.

No patients were added in Haifa in the last day, and the number of people infected in the city remains 81.

In Netanya, where a large ultra-Orthodox community resides, there has been a sharp increase of more than 23%, and the number of patients in the city is 117, compared with 95 Wednesday.

151 people have been infected in Ashkelon, an increase of 21% within a day. In Beer Sheva, too, there was a large increase of about 24%, and there are 114 confirmed patients in the city. In Ashdod there are 102 verified patients, a 3% increase.

The issue of imposing a closure on Bnei Brak was discussed in the conference call held by Netanyahu, Deri, Litzman and Gafni, and it became clear that police could not prevent entry into Bnei Brak absent emergency regulations. However, the Netanyahu government is looking for ways to enable police to decide who will enter Bnei Brak and who will not, without declaring martial law. Apparently, food distribution trucks will be able to get in, but police will minimize the entry of private citizens who do not reside in the Haredi enclave.