Severity: Critical Alert

Entry/Exit: Israeli authorities declare Bnei Brak a restricted zone April 2 amid passage of new restrictions to stem spread of COVID-19.

This alert affects Israel

This alert began 02 Apr 2020 22:53 GMT and is scheduled to expire 02 May 2020 23:59 GMT.

  • Incident: COVID-related restrictions
  • Location(s): Nationwide (map)
  • Time Frame: Indefinite
  • Impact: Travel, transport, and business disruptions, heightened security

Summary
Israeli authorities declared Bnei Brak a restricted zone April 2 following the passage of new coronavirus disease (COVID-19)-related restrictions. Bnei Brak is a predominately ultra-Orthodox town just east of Tel Aviv with at least 900 confirmed cases of the virus. Entry and exit to the area will be restricted to residents, security services, and essential services workers. The measure is in effect for a period of at least seven days. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) announced that it will deploy troops to Bnei Brak to help distribute food, medicine, and other necessities to residents. Additionally, the IDF plans to evacuate some 4,500 elderly residents from the area and place them in quarantine facilities to safeguard them against the spread of the virus.

Authorities have approved regulations allowing for the further restriction of movement in COVID-19 hotspots nationwide. Other restricted zones throughout the country could be declared in the coming days depending on disease activity. Additionally, authorities have mandated that Israelis returning from abroad who are unable to self-quarantine must enter a designated state-run quarantine facility for a period of 14 days.

The new measures follow a series of preventative restrictions that entered effect late March 30. Public gatherings of more than two people are now banned; the ban does not apply to members of the same family or individuals working on combating the spread of COVID-19. Prayers in public are prohibited. Authorities have urged residents to observe religious holidays - including Passover, Easter, and Ramadan - by themselves and without their extended families and friends. Any essential business that does not have sufficient space to meet social distancing requirements must reduce its workforce by an additional 15 percent beyond the already mandated 30-percent reduction. Employers are also required to ensure employees remain 2 meters (6 feet) apart from each other when interacting. Weddings cannot have any guests, while only 20 people may attend funeral services; up to 10 people may attend a circumcision ceremony. The restrictions will remain in effect until further notice.

Other previously enacted restrictions in Israel include:

  • All foreigners barred from entering Israel until further notice from March 18. Israeli citizens and permanent residents are still allowed entry;
  • Israel's national flag carrier El Al (LY) Airlines suspended all passenger flights until May 2. El Al officials stated that the company will continue to operate emergency and cargo flights;
  • All border crossings with Jordan and Egypt closed to passenger travel;
  • Closure of non-essential business including shops, cafes, and entertainment venues nationwide from March 15 for a period of at least five weeks;
  • Residents required to stay within 100 meters (328 feet) of their homes, unless traveling to/from work in vital sectors, purchasing necessities such as food and medicine, seeking medical assistance, or traveling for other specified extenuating circumstances;
  • Suspension of rail services nationwide and a reduction in other forms of public transport;
  • Employers required to perform health screenings on workers and other persons entering their businesses;
  • Closure of schools, universities, and synagogues until further notice;
  • Prohibition on restaurant takeout; delivery services may continue.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has previously stated that, absent a significant reduction in the spread of COVID-19 in Israel, the country may implement a full lockdown.

Background and Analysis
Israel's travel restrictions and preventive measures correspond with similar actions other governments are taking globally in response to the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a viral respiratory disease caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (previously known as 2019-nCoV). Symptoms occur 1-14 days following exposure (average of 3-7 days). These symptoms include fever, fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, sometimes worsening to pneumonia and kidney failure - especially in those with underlying medical conditions. On March 11, the WHO declared the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

Advice
Follow all official instructions. Abide by national health and safety measures. Reconfirm all travel arrangements. Consider delaying traveling if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, as they may prompt increased scrutiny and delays. Liaise with trusted contacts for further updates and guidance. Maintain contact with your diplomatic representation. Ensure contingency plans account for further disruptive measures or extensions of current restrictions. Reconsider and reconfirm nonemergency health appointments. Plan for queues and delays at available shopping centers.

Emphasize basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.

Resources
Israel Government Coronavirus Response Website (in Hebrew): www.gov.il

Israel Ministry of Health (in Hebrew): www.gov.il/he/departments/ministry_of_health

El Al Airlines: www.elal.com

World Health Organisation: www.who.int