Israel tightens quarantine in Jerusalem to halt virus spread

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli government approved a tight quarantine of several areas of Jerusalem on Sunday, including the historic Old City, in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the city’s most susceptible neighbourhoods.

A ministerial committee approved the shutting down of movement in and out of several predominantly ultra-Orthodox areas of the city to contain the disease that has already resulted in over 100 deaths in Israel and almost 6,000 around the Middle East, about three quarters of which come from Iran.

The measure, which took effect at noon on Sunday had been debated for days, faced resistance from ultra-Orthodox ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government who rejected singling out their constituency.

Israel’s Health Ministry has documented over 10,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and over 100 deaths. Roughly a fifth of all cases in Israel are in Jerusalem, the ministry said. A large percentage of the COVID-19 cases are in the country’s largely insular ultra-Orthodox community, which for weeks did not adhere to government orders to maintain social distancing.

The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death, particularly in elderly patients or those with underlying health problems.

Starting Sunday, residents of four areas of Jerusalem were not be permitted to leave their neighbourhoods for provisioning, and could only move to other areas for essential work and medical care.

Already tight restrictions on public gatherings have limited religious events in Jerusalem this April, which features the Jewish holiday of Passover, Easter and the start of the holy month of Ramadhan.

The Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and the Western Wall in Jerusalem. PHOTO: AP