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Israel seals off two Palestinian towns after sharp rise in coronavirus cases

Roadblocks at Deir al-Asad enforce the lockdown [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 April, 2020

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Authorities placed the towns of Deir al-Asad and al-Baneh in northern Israel under lockdown after mobile testing facilities revealed a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the area.
Israeli authorities sealed off the Arab towns of Deir al-Asad and al-Baneh in the northern Galilee region on Saturday morning for a week of tight restrictions, after "drive thru" testing facilities revealed a number of coronavirus cases in the area.

Confirmed cases of the virus in Deir al-Asad has increased by 589 percent in three days, according to a statement of the Ministry of Health on Saturday.

The nearby Jewish-majority town of Karmiel also implemented restrictions on its boundaries.

Karmiel had on Monday installed a mobile "drive thru" testing centre, which is thought to have revealed a number of confirmed infections among residents of the neighbouring Arab towns.

Read more: Are Palestinians on the cusp of a coronavirus outbreak?

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in Deir al-Asad reached 71 on Saturday, an almost six-fold increase since Wednesday.

The town of around 12,400 inhabitants now has the seventh highest coronavirus infection rate among the country's communities of over 5,000 people. However none of the towns with higher infection rates have been placed under lockdown.

Meanwhile, confirmed cases in al-Baneh, which has around 8,300 residents, stood at nine but is expected to rise.

The lockdown bars all entry and exit in and out of the towns, which constitute a single municipality, apart from exceptional cases and emergencies, Israeli media reported.

The Home Front Command of the Israeli military will distribute food and other necessities and services to the residents, according to the health ministry.

The head of the local council head supported the lockdown after being informed of the move, said the ministry's report.

Videos circulated social media of patrols in Deir al-Asad, telling residents to stay at home and avoid gatherings.

Palestinian communities in Israel have so far experienced low levels of coronavirus infection, however they have complained about the low level of testing being done in Arab areas.

According to Ahmed Tibi, a Palestinian MK and head of the Arab-majority Joint List's health committee, a testing centre would be opened in the town immediately. He encouraged residents to adhere to social distancing regulations and get tested if they showed symptoms of Covid-19.

Residents with the virus were being quarantined in a rented-out hotel in the nearby town of Nahariya, local and government officials agreed on Wednesday.

Deir al-Asad and al-Baneh are the first Palestinian towns in Israel to be put under lockdown.

Read also: In-depth: Israel's coronavirus coup: Netanyahu's tightening grip on power bodes badly for Palestinians

Several ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods have been hit by strict shutdowns in recent weeks. Bnei Brak, the first city in Israel to be sealed off, was allowed to ease some restrictions on Thursday.

Israel has been swift to impose stringent coronavirus prevention measures and testing since the initial outbreak. It currently has 13,107 confirmed cases and 158 fatalities.

Meanwhile in the Palestinian territories, where testing capability is significantly diminished, there have been 418 confirmed cases and two deaths.

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