Israel has announced a significant tightening of restrictions during its second general lockdown, as numbers of new coronavirus cases continue to rise, including strict limits on protests and prayer groups and a wider closure of places of work.
The new rules follow hours of debate in Israel’s coronavirus cabinet over recent days, during which senior lawmakers struggled to present a unified front in agreeing a master plan to combat the pandemic.
“In order to save the lives of Israeli citizens, it is incumbent upon us now to impose a full closure for two weeks - from this Friday until the end of Simchat Torah,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the beginning of the cabinet meeting, referring to the conclusion of the current holiday period.
“Afterwards, we will have an additional two weeks of closure, I hope with fewer restrictions, but … this depends upon the infection rates. The goal is to reduce the infection rate, and … to save many Israeli lives.” Netanyahu said.
The Deputy Director-General of the Health Ministry, Itamar Grotto, expressed opposition to the announcement, telling Israeli Radio there was no need to impose a sweeping closure on workplaces to reduce the infection rate. But Grotto, who participated in the cabinet meeting, said it was the government’s decision.
The tougher restrictions include: a general closure of businesses and workplaces, apart from those deemed necessary and essential services, such as food stores and pharmacies, which will remain open. Open-air markets will be closed.
Prayer and protest will be allowed only in open spaces within 1 km (0.6 miles) of home and with a limit of 20 people. However, synagogues will be allowed to open with certain restrictions on the upcoming one-day holiday of Yom Kippur, raising concerns that infections could increase if worshippers don’t abide by the regulations.
Public transportation will operate on a limited basis. A decision has not yet been made on whether to close Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv.
The new restrictions still require approval from the Knesset, which is expected later Thursday.
New cases: On Wednesday, Israel recorded 6,808 new coronavirus cases, according to the Ministry of Health, after a new daily high of 6,861 cases were recorded a day earlier. A total of 1,335 people have died in Israel as a result of coronavirus.