JERUSALEM (Reuters) – 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 neighbourhoods 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.
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, 10 near Tel Aviv, was declared a restricted zone on April 2 and police have limited access to the area.
Israel has reported 21, 878 confirmed coronavirus cases and 195 deaths. Palestinian officials listed 268 cases in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, with two fatalities.
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 ($ 878 million) a month to the PA as part of tax revenue that Israeli authorities collect on behalf of the Palestinians.
In all, Israel usually collects some 878 million shekels ($ 195 million) a month, in return for a 3% commission, in tax revenues for the PA from imports that arrive via Israeli ports. But the PA expects such revenue to decline by more than 100% due to reduced trade during the coronavirus crisis.
“If Israel agrees to pay us million shekels a month, we can add another 200 million shekels ($ 103 million) monthly aid from donor countries, in addition to 140 million shekels ($ 56 million) from local revenues, ”Bishara told reporters via a video link.
“That would make us 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.
(Corrects name of Palestinian finance minister, paragraph seven.)
Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Giles Elgood
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