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Outrage, scramble as Israel faces three-week lockdown

With new infections skyrocketing, Israel’s cabinet has declared a nationwide lockdown as of Friday to last throughout the holiday season.
Shoppers wearing protective masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, buy fresh produce at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on September 14, 2020. - Israelis reacted with anger and dismay at an imminent nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing one of the world's highest novel coronavirus infection rates. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP) (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel’s cabinet has decided to place the country under closure beginning Friday. The nationwide lockdown will last three weeks, from the eve of the Jewish New Year and throughout the high holiday season.

Addressing Israelis on TV right after the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the government's decision came after medical experts raised the alarm over the high numbers of people infected with the coronavirus and over the growing number of seriously ill patients. "We were warned of a spike in severe cases that could result in a number of deaths we have not seen before. The winter that is nearing may see seasonal flu added to the coronavirus case load so we must take steps in advance."

Netanyahu said Israelis will be limited from traveling more than 500 meters from their homes except for essential needs like food and medicine. Schools will be closed. Businesses and public sector employers will work at a reduced capacity. Only supermarkets and pharmacies will maintain normal schedules.

“Our goal is to stop the increase and lower morbidity. I know that these steps come at a difficult price for all of us. This is not the holiday we are used to. And we certainly won't be able to celebrate with our extended families,” stated Netanyahu. He also said that the decision to impose a lockdown during the holiday season may have less of an impact on the economy compared with the first lockdown in March, because many workplaces would be closed or at a reduced capacity regardless.

Israel earned much praise over its handling of the first coronavirus wave. The country was quick to close its borders and to track the infected and those who came in contact with them. It also went into lockdown for several days.

Still, in the past few weeks Israel has seen a sharp rise in cases, passing 4,000 new infections per day over the weekend. There are now more than 150,000 confirmed cases and over 1,000 deceased in Israel, which has a population of about 9 million people. Israelis have been blaming Netanyahu for opening up the country too soon after the first lockdown in order to restart the economy and for being susceptible to pressure by interest groups in managing the crisis.  

Israel is the first developed country in the world to impose a second lockdown. Media outlets have been reporting in the past few hours about a sharp rise in people buying food as well as toys and books for the upcoming closure.

Yesterday, ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman announced his resignation from the government in protest over the nationwide lockdown. Litzman considers the decision an affront to the religious public, since the closure will include religious schools and will significantly reduce prayers at synagogues on the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur.

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