Israel's Government Set to Approve Nationwide Coronavirus Lockdown Starting Friday

Two-week lockdown expected to begin at 6:00 A.M. Friday morning, about 12 hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah, limiting people to a 500-meter radius of their residence

Ido Efrati
Noa Landau
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A police checkpoint in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem which is subject to a 7:00 P.M. curfew to curb the spread of the coronavirus, September 9, 2020.
A police checkpoint in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem which is subject to a 7:00 P.M. curfew to curb the spread of the coronavirus, September 9, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Noa Landau

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The cabinet is expected to approve Sunday morning a full lockdown beginning 6:00 A.M. Friday morning, about 12 hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah.

According to the provisions of the resolution drawn up by the Health Ministry, schools will close Wednesday, except for boarding schools and special education.

During the lockdown, the entire country will be considered a "red" zone, and people will be restricted to a 500-meter (0.3 miles) radius from their place of residence. All businesses, commerce, domestic tourism, places of entertainment and government offices that serve people in person will be closed, with the exception of essential services, grocery stores and supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware stores, medical supply stores and computer and cellphone stores and repair facilities. Restaurants will be limited to delivery and takeout service.

Government offices will operate at 30 percent of normal staffing levels, except for essential organizations. Businesses will be limited to 10 employees or 30 percent of normal staffing levels, whichever is higher. Essential organizations are exempt from these limits.

According to the proposal, which may change before the vote, the education system will cease its activities as early as Wednesday, besides distance learning. The National Preschools Council has announced that it will suspend learning in such a case.

Public worship on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur must be outside, in groups of up to 20 people, or up to 10 in communities with high infection rates. In addition, there must be 4 square meters of floor space for each worshiper.

The lockdown is to be the first stage of the three-phase plan that was approved by the coronavirus cabinet. The first stage is expected to continue for two weeks, after which, in keeping with the illness, death and hospitalization figures, less drastic restrictions are to be introduced.

In the second phase, called “tightened restraint,” the 500-meter limit will be lifted. Indoor and outdoor gatherings will be capped at a maximum of 10 and 20 people, respectively. Worship during Sukkot and on Simhat Torah will follow the same formulas as for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. All of the restrictions on business, commerce, culture, leisure activities and the like will remain in place.

In the third phase, the “traffic light” program will be reintroduced, with communities that have higher rates of infection being subject to restrictions.

Prof. Ran Balicer, the head of the council of experts advising coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu on handling the epidemic, says the lockdown is necessary. Responding to the lively discussion on social media this weekend, he wrote on Twitter: “So, a lockdown or a tightened restraint that leaves some of the private sector working for the next two weeks, and freedom of movement? Epidemiologically, there’s a chance that tightened restraint, on the condition of responsible behavior by the public, will suffice. But the decision-makers ask themselves: Why would a change in the directives have a deep effect when the problem up to now has been ignoring the directives and not the harshness of [the directives]?”

The head of the panel of experts advising the National Security Council, Prof. Eli Waxman, told Haaretz that he fears that those who oppose the plan in the government will "displace the decision from a substantive content." A source close to Gamzu said quite a few ministers oppose the proposal, and that is not not sure the proposal will be approved.

“If we don’t speak out clearly against a second unnecessary and disastrous lockdown and in favor of the critical and far-reaching steps that are needed now, we’ll soon get a third lockdown,” tweeted Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. “It’s impossible to delay the need to make decisions for the good of public health that are based on the public interest, in a proper manner and on the basis of epidemiology. There is still hope of being a free nation in our land,” he added.

This weekend, Levine called an urgent meeting of the heads of the IMA to discuss the rising infection rate. “We are in a health emergency that requires harsh, nationwide measures,” he said.

Levine called for a program with clear, well-defined objectives, based on medical and epidemiological considerations, in addition to a long-term program. He emphasized that the plan must include a significant information component, aimed at getting Israelis to understand the gravity of the situation while also giving the public in general and business owners in particular hope for the future. He said that the more the public is informed in advance about the various stages of the plan, the more effective it will be in curbing the infection rate and increasing public trust.

As of Saturday night, 4,158 new virus cases were record for the day. The number of active cases stands at 38,119 and the total to date is 152,722. Twenty-six people died in less in 24 hours, raising the death toll in Israel to 1,103. 

A view of the current situation presented to the coronavirus cabinet this week stated that as of Tuesday, 62 percent of the Israeli population lives in a red or orange locality, while eight percent of the population lives in a green locality. Meanwhile, the infection coefficient in ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities is more than 1.2, and in the general population "there is an aggravation in mixed cities and continued spread and deepening in most cities," the presentation said. It was also noted that there are signs that reopening the education systems has enabled the spread of the virus.