The Israel Re-Imposes General Lockdown After Losing Control Over Pandemic

As an example of determination for the rest of the nations, Israel overcame the first onslaught of the pandemic in the spring with hardly any health consequences. The second wave of the coronavirus plague now threatens to dismantle its health system, overwhelmed by more than 4,000 daily infections in a country of nine million inhabitants. After several weeks of hesitation, the Israeli government has ordered a general three-week confinement this Sunday after the apparent failure of partial containment measures , such as the night curfew in dozens of populations with a high rate of infections. The Jewish State thus becomes the first country with an advanced economy to reconfine its entire population due to the second wave of covid-19.

From Friday, September 18, at the beginning of the Jewish New Year holiday and at least until October 10, past Yom Kippur or Day of Repentance and the celebration of Sukot or Feast of Tabernacles, Israelis will see drastically their mobility and their professional and academic activities reduced. Incidentally, the government intends to curb mass displacements and mass family gatherings during the so-called great Jewish holidays. If the infection rate cannot be lowered, the authorities do not rule out extending the restrictions until November.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that citizens will not be able to go more than 500 meters from their homes, except those that provide essential services (food, health, electronics and home, among others), which will continue to be offered to the public. Colleges and universities, restaurants and entertainment venues will remain closed during lockdown.

“It will not be a Jewish holiday as usual,” Netanyahu acknowledged before heading to Washington to participate on Tuesday in the signing ceremony for the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. “The economy is going to suffer from the closure,” he warned before announcing aid measures for workers, the self-employed and entrepreneurs that will be approved on Thursday.

During the three weeks of restrictions, authorities will only allow gatherings of up to 10 people indoors and up to 20 in open spaces. The Hebrew press also anticipated that the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, the main gateway to the Jewish state, will continue to operate, although with limitations for travelers depending on their origin. With some exceptions, they must undergo a two-week quarantine upon arrival in the country.
After a year and a half of political instability punctuated by three legislative elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed in May on a government of national unity with his main rival, the centrist Benny Gantz. The central objective was, precisely, to combat the spread of covid-19 and revive the national economy , in a comatose state after suffering a collapse of 28% in the second half of this year. Disputes between coalition partners, however, have led to the failure of the joint program, while citizens seem to have lost confidence in their rulers.

Netanyahu has come to acknowledge that the accelerated de-escalation that followed the strict lockdown in March and April was premature. In addition to the multiplication of infections, mostly asymptomatic, among young people, the pandemic has hit the most disadvantaged minorities. Arab Israelis (20% of the population) and ultra-Orthodox Jews (11%) account for about 40% of the more than 150,000 cases, of which 37,480 are still active.

The internal debate in the government is a faithful reflection of the fragmentation of Israeli society into castes that barely interact. Yakov Litzman, Minister of Housing and leader of the ultra-religious party Union for Torah and Judaism, resigned this Sunday in rejection of the imposition of the new confinement, which he said will prevent prayer in the New Year celebrations. This leader of the Ashkenazis (Central European Jews) was Minister of Health in the previous Government, at the beginning of the pandemic, when he tested positive for coronavirus for having attended a massive ceremony in a synagogue, against the guidelines of his own department on capacity limitation in places of worship.

The night curfew imposed as of last week on the 40 populations of Israel hardest hit by the pandemic seems to have not had the desired effect, and the rate of infections continues to skyrocket. The ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that support the government, meanwhile, threatened to withdraw support for Netanyahu if the lockdowns only affected cities and districts where his supporters are the majority. Ultimately, isolation will be for everyone.

In the last two months, Israel has gone from a weekly average of 1,500 daily cases to 3,500 during the past week. Health authorities have warned that the p rogression of registered infections may already be saturating intensive care units in hospitals and exceed the red line of 800 beds reserved nationwide.

Since the beginning of the month, the resumption of the school year has contributed to the multiplication of the infection rate. During the first week of the course, the Ministry of Education recorded more than 1,800 positive cases of coronavirus among students, teachers and non-teaching staff. The contagions in the school community – which forced about 25,000 people to be quarantined at home – forced the closure of at least 42 education centers and 150 kindergartens throughout the country.

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