What happened: The Israeli cabinet yesterday agreed to impose extraordinary restrictions on movement for the upcoming Passover holiday in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. A ban on all inter-city travel came into effect yesterday afternoon until Friday morning, while a full curfew – with Israelis barred from going beyond 100 meters outside of their homes – will begin at 3pm today (Passover Eve) until Thursday morning.
- The government is intent on stopping Israelis from congregating together to celebrate the holiday, as it could lead to a rise in infections. According to government instructions, Passover Seders can only be held with the family members already living in the home.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described the upcoming holiday period as a “fateful week,” adding: “In the battle to block the coronavirus, these days will determine the direction – progress or retreat, and for many people, life or death.”
- Some 30,000 Israel Police officers, backed up by several thousand IDF soldiers, will enforce the closure. Roadblocks and checkpoints have been set up at over 40 major interchanges across the country.
- The new restrictions are a reversal from an earlier – and more selective – government plan that would have seen closures around some eight towns and several Jerusalem neighborhoods worst-hit by COVID-19. According to reports, several ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition protested the earlier plan as discriminatory towards the ultra-Orthodox community.
Context: As of this morning over 9,400 Israelis have been infected with COVID-19, out of which 122 require the use of ventilators. 71 deaths have been reported so far.
- Israel has had success in slowing the overall rate of infections over the past week, although concerns remain regarding the large number of cases in some ultra-Orthodox and Arab-Israeli communities.
- While an increase in infections over the holiday period is still expected, health authorities are trying to avoid a repeat of March’s Purim holiday where mass congregations led to severe outbreaks.
- Governmental authorities have been scrambling to locate and acquire additional ventilators from abroad – so far with limited success. According to official figures, there are approximately 2,860 ventilators in Israel, although only half are believed to be available for use.
- The IDF is taking a larger role in aiding the civilian population – including assisting in enforcement, providing support at old-age homes, and distributing food packages to individual homes. In the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak alone, the IDF has distributed some 15,000 food packages.
Looking ahead: Prime Minister Netanyahu and other ministers have raised the prospect of a gradual lifting of overall restrictions after the Passover holiday ends – in particular the resumption of some commercial activity beginning 19 April.
- While no official decision has yet been made, according to Channel 13 Netanyahu is planning to reveal an “exit strategy” out of the pandemic next week.
- In addition to Passover, the Easter holiday will be taking place this week and, later in April, Ramadan will also begin. Netanyahu has said that “identical rules will be applied regarding the holidays of our non-Jewish brothers and sisters”.
- A full curfew in the coming days, however, is not expected in predominantly Arab towns as locals will not be celebrating Passover.