Israel closes off Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox areas to stem coronavirus spread

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Israel locked down mainly ultra-Orthodox Jewish areas of Jerusalem on Sunday to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus from the densely populated neighborhoods where the infection rate is high.

The entry and exit restrictions, enforced by police roadblocks, were imposed on the same day that a government order for the wearing of masks in public went into effect throughout the country.

Residents of the restricted neighborhoods in Jerusalem can still shop close to home for essentials but synagogues have been closed to try to stem infections, an edict in force across Israel.

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The neighborhoods are home to large families living in close quarters. Compliance with social-distancing guidelines has been spotty.

Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox town of 200,000 near Tel Aviv, was declared a restricted zone on April 2 and police have limited access to the area.

Israel has reported 10,878 confirmed coronavirus cases and 103 deaths.

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Palestinian officials listed 268 cases in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, with two fatalities.

Visit our dedicated coronavirus site here for all the latest updates.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said the Palestinian Authority (PA) asked Israel to help it grapple with economic hardship caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Bishara said he requested Israel transfer a minimum of 500 million shekels ($140 million) a month to the PA as part of tax revenues that Israeli authorities collect on behalf of the Palestinians.

In all, Israel usually collects some 700 million shekels ($195 million) a month, in return for a 3 percent commission, in tax revenues for the PA from imports that arrive via Israeli ports. But the PA expects such revenues to decline by more than 50 percent due to reduced trade during the coronavirus crisis.

“If Israel agrees to pay us 500 million shekels a month, we can add another 200 million shekels ($56 million) monthly aid from donor countries, in addition to 100 million shekels ($28 million) from local revenues,” Bishara told reporters via a video link.

“That would make us 200 million shekels short (of normal figure), a sum we can make up for through taking (bank) loans,” he said. “That should keep us going that way for six months.”

He said there was no immediate official word from Israel on the request but indications were positive.

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