The lockdown is set to last through early October at the very least. It aims to prevent mass gatherings during the Jewish holidays that began at sundown on Friday. It will extend through three more holidays that typically involve millions of Jewish worshipers attending synagogues and gathering for prayer service: Rock Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukdot.
Should the lockdown be deemed effective, Israel will later move to localized lockdowns of coronavirus hotspots.
With the new surge, Israel now has one of the worst rates of daily coronavirus infections per capita in the world. On Saturday, September 12, the country recorded 2,715 new infections and 38,008 active cases overall according to the country's Ministry of Health. In addition, there were 513 patients in serious condition, while 1,108 people had died.
“We want to curb the surge,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the cabinet voted to back the lockdown on Sunday. “We are not going to be able to be together with our extended families and some are going to see damage to their businesses.”
Under the new lockdown measures, people must stay within one-third of a mile of their homes unless shopping for essential goods or seeking essential services. Businesses deemed essential, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, will remain open. Government offices and some private businesses are allowed to remain open provided that they don't accept customers, which means that some people will continue to commute to work.
Schools will have to close during the lockdown, as will hotels, gyms and restaurants. Meanwhile, indoor gatherings will be limited to only 10 people. Outdoor gatherings, on the other hand, can have up to 20 people.
In addition, the government has also released guidelines that limit holiday prayer services to small groups.
To help alleviate the expected economic toll of the shutdown, Netanyahu said that his government is looking to approve additional financial aid. The ongoing pandemic has spurred a steep recession in the country – in late August, the Bank of Isreal estimated unemployment being at 12 percent, down from a peak of roughly 27 percent in May following two months of business closures from the outbreak. As such, the country’s finance ministry predicts that the measure will cost their economy 6.5 billion shekels or $1.88 billion.
“The meaning of any further shutdown of the economy is a significant decline in the standard of living for Israeli citizens for the next decade and a passing on of great debt to future generations,” Rom Tomer, the head of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, said in a written statement Sunday.
Hotels, which have been limited to catering to Israelis largely barred from traveling overseas, say they've been hit particularly hard. “We managed to get reservations for the holidays, bought goods, food, equipment and are now facing a hopeless situation,” Amir Hayek, president of the Israeli Hotels Association, stated in an interview Sunday with local radio station 103FM. “We are in a catatonic state.”
Israel was a leader in fighting the first wave of the coronavirus after Netanyahu moved quickly to shut down its borders and institute a quarantine for all returning travelers. The country, however, also moved quickly to reopen schools and businesses in May and in June, which looks to have fueled the second outbreak that has worsened over the summer. (Related: Israel's Health Ministry bans the use of Chinese coronavirus test kits.)
“This type of spreading and expanding of the infection obligates us to take steps,” said Dr. Ronni Gamzu, the country’s coronavirus czar, in a televised broadcast from his home.
“Believe me, this is the lesser of two evils. We must understand we’re in a battle.”
The decision to implement a new shutdown has divided the country’s ruling coalition. Some of its more conservative members have criticized it, saying that it will prevent tens of thousands of people from attending services during the most important holidays of the year.
The shutdown has caused at least one high-ranking member of the coalition to quit. Housing Minister Yakov Litzman, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish party, resigned in protest of the new shutdown, saying that it would prevent Jewish people from celebrating important festivals such as Yom Kippur – the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, on September 27.
In addition, Litzman has also threatened to pull his party out of the governing coalition.
“This wrongs and scorns hundreds of thousands of citizens,” wrote Litzman in his resignation letter. “Where were you until now? Why have the Jewish holidays become a convenient address for tackling the coronavirus?”
Not all conservative leaders agree with Litzman. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, leader of yet another ultra-Orthodox party, stated he supported the planned restrictions in a video posted on Twitter. He said that not obeying them would be tantamount to murder.
Meanwhile, in his address to the cabinet as it convened to vote on the lockdown on Sunday, Netanyahu said that he regretted Litzman's resignation.
“We have to move on, to make the decisions necessary for Israel in the coronavirus era, and that is what we will do in this session,” he stated.
Learn more about the continued spread of the coronavirus at Pandemic.news.