JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli leaders announced Sunday the country will be forced into yet another full lockdown with the hopes that it will lower skyrocketing virus cases and the morbidity rate.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the lockdown will begin at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, just before celebrations begin for the Jewish new year holiday of Rosh Hashanah. The first phase of the lockdown will extend for three weeks from Sept. 28 until Oct. 11. Authorities will then reassess the situation.
During the lockdown, police and soldiers will prevent Israelis from venturing more than 500 meters from their property. People will only be allowed to leave their homes for vital supplies like food and medicine.
All businesses that receive the public will be forced to shut down and authorities will ban companies from receiving customers. Businesses that do not interact with the public, like factories, will be allowed to stay open but with limited personnel.
All gyms and restaurants will be shuttered. However, restaurants will be able to offer deliveries.
Schools, except for special education centers, will be closed as well. Indoor and outdoor gatherings will be limited.
The lockdown will also affect the way people worship during the upcoming Jewish holy days. Up to 20 people will be allowed to pray together outdoors. In areas where infection rates are highest, up to 10 people will be allowed to worship together indoors. Up to 25 people will be allowed to worship together indoors in areas where infection rates are lower.
If the morbidity rate has lowered by Oct. 11, Israel may transition into the second phase of the lockdown. During the second phase, restrictions will be tailored according to the severity of the virus in each specific city and municipality.
The government has yet to announce what criteria it will use to determine when the lockdown restrictions will be released or what its exit strategy is. Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy suggested Monday that the government may ease the nationwide lockdown when the number of new daily cases drops to 1,000 per day.
“We would like to get to 500 cases a day, but it is clear that at this time that won’t happen,” Levy said.
“If we see a drop to 1,000 patients, and proper behavior [from the public], and a downward trend in morbidity, and at the same time stabilization in the hospital system, that will be a positive sign to consider coming out of the lockdown. We will put together criteria in the coming days,” he continued.
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Israel’s Health Ministry record 3,167 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday. The country’s daily number of new cases has topped 4,000 in recent weeks.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said hospitals are struggling to keep up with the demands of treating patients and he was left with no choice but to impose a new lockdown.
“For three months, I tried to avoid a lockdown. I did everything so that we could live alongside the coronavirus, with rules here and there,” he said. “Under the circumstances that were created, we had no choice.”
Edelstein said if the public obeys the government, “there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Opposition to the Lockdown
The new lockdown was met with fierce opposition by businesses and political leaders. Business owners have threatened “anarchy” if they are barred from generating income without first receiving compensation from the government.
Politicians like Labor Minister Itzhik Shmuli opposed the nationwide lockdown and instead supported measures that would focus on targeting virus hotspots without crippling an already damaged economy. Others criticized health leaders for imposing rules they consider random, confusing and inconsistent. Israel’s finance, economy, and tourism ministers all voted against the lockdown. Israel’s Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman resigned from the government in protest of the shutdown.
The Finance Ministry projected the lockdown will cost Israel at least $1.8 billion.
Water Resources Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud party, who also voted against the lockdown, said it is not clear if the restrictions will end after three weeks, or if the government has a clear target.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Israel has recorded more than 156,500 virus cases and just over 1,100 people have died.
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