Israel will head into a second coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a televised news conference Sunday night, following a sharp escalation in the number of new COVID-19 infections in the country in recent weeks.
The lockdown, which requires schools, stores, malls and hotels to close and reinstates restrictions on people’s movements for at least three weeks starting Friday, marks an attempt to halt the trajectory that saw more than 4,000 new cases in a single day last week in a country of some 9 million.
Data published by the Health Ministry on Sunday showed that since the start of the crisis, 153,759 people in Israel have caught the virus, with 114,635 recovering, 38,008 cases active and 1,108 dead.
“Our economy is still in good shape,” Netanyahu assured the public Sunday, pointing out that Israel’s rising numbers mirrored what was happening in many other countries and reflected the challenge of reopening society and the economy after the first lockdown in March and April.
Israel began reopening in early May, even sending children back to school before the summer vacation to allow parents to return to work. Now, Netanyahu said, the worrying trend of recent weeks has caused the “health services to raise a red flag” and forced the government to adopt the recommendations of recently appointed coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, who had pushed for a full lockdown.
Although the number of critical cases appears low, medical centers in Israel have said they are approaching full capacity and fear that the number of sick will increase dramatically as Israel heads into winter and begins a month of Jewish holy festivals starting Friday.
Some members of the ultra-Orthodox community have also threatened to ignore the lockdown if it restricts their ability to worship over the High Holy Days — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
On Sunday, as the government debated the impending measures, Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who is ultra-Orthodox, announced his resignation from the government because of the expected restrictions on communal prayer.
In a letter to Netanyahu, he decried the fact that the lockdown would prevent worshipers, including tens of thousands of Jews who don’t usually attend synagogue, from joining prayers in the most important and well-attended Jewish services of the year.
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