Full lockdown to begin in Israel today

What happened: The Coronavirus cabinet agreed yesterday to tighten the restrictions of the current lockdown, which will come into effect today at 2pm local time.

  • The restrictions are not yet fully approved as the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is still debating the amendment to the coronavirus law that passed its first reading last night. However, it is expected that the new measures will include a limit of movement of 1km from peoples’ homes (except for emergencies, going to work or shopping for food/medicine), closure of beaches, shutdown of the economy (except for essential businesses), a gathering limit of 20 people outside and 10 for inside, and limited public transport.
  • The amendment will also authorise the cabinet to impose restriction on gathering at a demonstration or a religious ceremony, providing it’s crucial to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • In an effort to protect the economy, the cabinet also approved the continued activity of  tens of thousands “essential enterprises”, including social services, public services, banks and capital market institutions, agricultural workers, as well as energy, high-tech and infrastructure projects.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the government’s decision to significantly tighten the lockdown, despite reports earlier in the week that he preferred minimal restrictions, as recommended by the Health Ministry official. He said last night: “The lockdown steps aren’t easy but saving life comes before everything. We’re at the height of an ongoing war.”
  • Netanyahu also addressed the claim that he sought to impose a full lockdown in order to curtail the protests against him, saying that people “can demonstrate on Balfour Street if they want to, they can demonstrate in capsules,” adding that the protests were only hurting the public’s trust.
  • Israeli Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said: “We are in the midst of a national emergency, this is not a struggle between demonstrators and worshipers. This virus doesn’t attack only Haredim or Arabs, this has nothing to do with the right or the left. When a protester shows understanding for a worshiper and vice versa, both of them will help to beat the virus.”
  • The Health Ministry said this morning that a record high 7,527 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed yesterday. Of the 60,786 active cases, 669 are in serious condition, 167 of them on ventilators. Another 246 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

Context: The Coronavirus Cabinet approved the proposal to tighten the lockdown after several days of infighting and against the recommendations from Health Ministry officials.

  • A report on Channel 13 News Wednesday said coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu privately called the decision “terrible” and its motives “disgusting”, in reference to stopping the protests. The report quoted Gamzu as saying that “everything started when legal opinions said protests cannot be prevented. Netanyahu then said: ‘If everyone is home and the entire economy is shut down, so why can’t we prevent demonstrations?’”
  • During one cabinet meeting, Blue and White MK Yizhar Shai accused Netanyahu of misleading the ministers by falsely saying the percentage of coronavirus tests being positive today is significantly higher than in March. Minister of Science Shai considered resigning but agreed to continue after speaking with Gantz last night.
  • Opposition leader Yair Lapid gave his own televised statement shortly before Netanyahu and Gantz, in which he criticised the lockdown decision but urged the public to follow the regulations. He said: “The State of Israel is entering a lockdown it didn’t need to enter… it’s Netanyahu’s failure. It could have been managed differently, it should have been managed differently.”
  • Around 2,000 people attended a demonstration near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, titled “From the Yom Kippur War Fiasco to the Coronavirus Fiasco” last night. The demonstrators sat on socially distanced chairs from one another and wore masks. When the demonstration ended, one group of demonstrators marched towards the Knesset.

Looking ahead: Yom Kippur prayers that begin Sunday evening will take place almost entirely outdoors, with groups of up to 10 worshipers only expected to be permitted to pray inside synagogues.

  • The shutdown will also cover the entirety of the Sukkot holiday.
  • The objective of the lockdown will be to reduce the number of new cases from about 7,000 per day to 1,000-1,500 per day within three weeks. A total of 1,500 new cases per day is the maximum amount that the system now being operated by the IDF can cope with in order to break the chain of infection.

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