ISRAEL is set to become the first country to impose a second nationwide coronavirus lockdown – which will take place during the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night announced that schools, restaurants, shopping centres and hotels would shut on Friday for the next three weeks following a surge in Covid-19 infections.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
As part of the new restrictions, members of the public will also be ordered to stay within 500 yards of their homes and no more than ten people can meet indoors.
The country, which managed to deal effectively with the first wave of infections in the Spring through a tough national lockdown, has seen its daily case rate surge with over 4,100 infections recorded on September 12.
According to Worldometer, the country’s seven-day rolling average of daily cases has shot up from 63 at the beginning of June to 3,566 as of September 13.
In a televised address to the nation on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said he regretted imposing the draconian new restrictions but that stabilising the infection rate remained a priority.
He said: “Our goal is to stop the increase (in cases) 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.”
The lockdown, which begins at 1100 GMT on Friday, comes just a few hours before beginning of the Jewish New year and the High Holidays.
This wrongs and scorns hundreds of thousands of citizens
Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman
Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, takes place on September 27 and Israelis typically hold large family gatherings and go to synagogues for prayers.
But health officials fear that these settings could trigger new outbreaks of the virus.
Israel’s ultra-orthodox Jewish community has criticised the decision to enforce restrictions during the important religious holiday season – with the controversy forcing the resignation of Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman.
Mr Litzman, who leads ultra-Orthodox party Agudat Yisrael, has also threatened to pull his party out of the governing coalition over the new lockdown.
He wrote in a resignation letter on Friday: “This wrongs and scorns hundreds of thousands of citizens.
“Where were you until now? Why have the Jewish holidays become a convenient address for tackling the coronavirus?”
Israel has seen 1,108 deaths from Covid-19 in total and over 153,000 confirmed infections, according to a global tally kept by US university John Hopkins.
The country’s first strict lockdown, announced in April, brought the pandemic under control but has caused economic ruin – with unemployment set to spiral to between 10% and 15% by the end of the year, Haaretz reports.
While Mr Netanyahu was initially praised for his decisive handling of the first wave of infections, he has come under fire from the Israeli public amid a storm of corruption allegations and fury over spiralling infections.
Countries across the globe are seeing a second surge of the virus since reopening their economies, but have largely managed to contain outbreaks through imposing smaller localised lockdowns.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv last night to protest for the 13th week in a row, demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation.
But at the press conference Sunday announcing the lockdown, Netanyahu defended his coronavirus response, saying Israel’s economy had emerged from the first lockdown in a better state than many other developed nations.
He added that while cases were high, the country’s virus mortality numbers were lower than other countries with similar outbreaks.