Israel has approved a second general lockdown as coronavirus cases surge across the country. The lockdown, which is expected to start Friday afternoon, will see the country return to many of the same severe restrictions of the first lockdown back in April.
Schools, restaurants (except delivery), and entertainment venues will all close, as well as other businesses, for an initial period of three weeks. The public sector will operate with a limited workforce, while private sector businesses can operate as long as non-employees do not enter the workspace.
People will be required to stay within 500 meters of their home. Emergency services, as well as pharmacies and food stores will remain open. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 20 people, while indoor gatherings will be limited to ten.
Restrictions will be eased once Israel records a sharp decline in infection rates, though no number has been put on what might constitute such a decline.
The second lockdown was announced on Sunday evening. At a cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Netanyahu said the country’s coronavirus czar had raised “a red flag regarding the ability of the health system to handle the challenges that are upon us, and [thus] the need to take the necessary steps as a result.”
Netanyahu announced the lockdown after coronavirus cases surged last week, hitting a record of 4,217 new cases in 24 hours on Thursday, the third day in a row with more than 4,000 new cases recorded. The number of patients in serious condition has also steadily climbed, reaching a high of 513 serious cases and 138 on ventilators as of Saturday.
The soaring numbers appeared to leave Israeli leaders with few choices to try to regain control of a virus that had at one point seemed almost fully contained. Back in April, Netanyahu boasted that Israel had shown the world how to contain coronavirus and he hoped it would show the world how to restart an economy emerging from lockdown. Now Israel is possibly the first country in the world to impose a second general lockdown because of a resurgence of infections.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warned Sunday, “There is now no escape from a closure. We brought a proposal [for closure]. I truly will not be happy when it is approved. This is a very difficult day for the country. But it’s a proposal with no other alternative.”
Even so, the general closure, which was approved by the coronavirus cabinet last week, still sparked a debate within the government, with some ministers opposed to a full lockdown.
Earlier in the day Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who leads one of the ultra-Orthodox parties and served as Health Minister during the first wave of infections, resigned his position in protest over the impending lockdown. Litzman said he was resigning because the decision to impose a general lockdown over the Jewish high holidays, which start next weekend, had been decided in advance.
Litzman warned that a closure would drastically reduce the number of Jews attending synagogues during the high holidays, “especially tens of thousands of Jews, from different populations, for some of whom this is the only time during the year to attend prayers at synagogue.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu will try to shift the focus from Israel’s failure to contain coronavirus to his recent diplomatic achievements. Shortly after announcing the lockdown in a press conference Sunday evening, Netanyahu was scheduled to fly to Washington, DC, for a ceremony at the White House marking normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.