Israel's Three-week Lockdown Explained: The Dos, Don'ts and High Holy Day Plans

Who can travel past 1,000 meters from home? How are Rosh Hashanah services going to work? Will buses be running? Everything we know about the new coronavirus lockdown

Ido Efrati
Jonathan Lis
Josh Breiner
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Police enforcing the lockdown of Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood, September 9, 2020.
Police enforcing the lockdown of Jerusalem's Ramot neighborhood, September 9, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Jonathan Lis
Josh Breiner

On Thursday, the Israeli government approved regulations for the three-week national lockdown beginning on Friday at 2 P.M., the eve of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, to address the spike in coronavirus cases.

The lockdown is currently due to last until Sunday, October 11, a day after Simhat Torah.

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The lockdown will restrict Israelis from traveling more than 1,000 meters (about .6 miles) from their homes, subject to exceptions for essential purposes – the government amended the regulation on Thursday evening from 500 meters hours before the lockdown went into effect. Businesses that serve customers in-person will be closed, but retailers selling essentials such as food and medicine will remain open.

The government approved the regulations of the lockdown on Thursday morning, and the cabinet will convene two weeks into the lockdown for a situation assessment. It will take 24 hours for the regulations to go into effect, giving the Knesset time to examine the rules – and to overturn some or all of them if they see fit – before they become law. The Knesset will also have one week to change and overturn regulations, even after they have gone into effect.

How is the new nationwide lockdown different from the one at the beginning of the pandemic in the spring?

Because the lockdown in March and April was instituted when a transitional government was in office prior to the formation of the current coalition government, lockdown regulations were issued as emergency orders. The new regulations are being issued based on a new coronavirus law that gives the cabinet authority to approve these restrictions.

This time, the lockdown is longer – but less restrictive. For example, while in March people were limited to a distance of only 100 meters from their homes, now they will be allowed to go 1,000 meters.

The government has also approved a 500 shekel (about $145) fine for anyone who strays beyond their 1,000 meters for unapproved reasons.  

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Who can travel beyond 1,000 meters from home?

People are permitted to leave home to go to work, whatever the distance, even if it is not classified as essential, so long as they do not accept customers in-person. Athletic activity will be allowed without distance limitations.

People walking around Jerusalem's city center, September 13, 2020
People walking around Jerusalem's city center, September 13, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The law also permits traveling for reasons including but not limited to: to purchase food or other essentials, to receive medical and mental health treatment, to donate blood, to attend a demonstration, to obtain social welfare services, to attend legal proceedings or the funeral of a first-degree relative, to provide essential assistance to someone and to transfer a minor whose parents are separated from one parent's home to the other. Women are also authorized to travel to mikveh (religious ritual) baths.

Visiting the beach is permitted for exercise only, and those wanting a beach workout must come by foot, and not by car.

Beginning on Wednesday, travel will also be allowed in order to purchase supplies and fulfill religious obligations ahead of the Sukkot holiday.

Can I visit my friends and family? What about for holiday meals?

Visiting another person's home is forbidden, with the exception of work or providing them necessary assistance.

How many people can be in a space at once?

Up to 10 people can gather in an enclosed space, and 20 people outdoors, with a distance of two meters between them.

Can people go to synagogue for holiday prayer services?

Worshippers can only go to prayer services within 1,000 meters of their homes, including during the High Holy Days.

People can pray in outdoor capsules of up to 20 people, with physically demarcated distances between them, and an empty seat between each worshipper who is not a member of the same household.

People can pray indoors in groups of 10 or 25, depending on the local infection rate. Groups will be distanced and separated by plastic dividers, and two empty seats will be left between each worshipper.

The number of people allowed into synagogue buildings is dependent on the local infection rate, the size of the building, and how many entrances and exits it has. There will be no more than one person allowed for every four square meters of space in a place of worship.

The Azrieli mall in Tel Aviv.
The Azrieli mall in Tel Aviv, Aug., 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Synagogues cannot serve food during indoor or outdoor services.

What will be closed?

Any business that receives members of the public, except for those that provide essential services, will be shuttered for the duration of the lockdown. That includes retail stores, cultural institutions, places of entertainment, recreation and tourism, swimming pools and gyms and restaurants. Only essential services will be allowed to remain open, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, laundromats, opticians and stores that sell other essential items, such as those for home maintenance and communications.

The public sector will be operating at half capacity. The private sector businesses, except those listed above, will remain open.

Hotels will only be open if they are serving as short or long-term replacements for housing, such as those rented by foreign workers. A hotel's public spaces, such as pools and restaurants, are off limits.

Restaurants and other businesses will be allowed to make deliveries.

What about schools?

Schools and preschools will be closed during the lockdown, except for special education and programs for at-risk youth. Schools and preschools will switch to distance learning instead. Special education students who are normally mainstreamed into regular classes will be able to come to school to receive the treatment and individual assistance that they are entitled to, the Education Ministry said.

Will public transportation be running?

Buses will be running, but at limited capacity. Trains will operate with an empty seat for each passenger, and buses will also limit the number of passengers. Taxis will only take one passenger at a time, unless that passenger must be accompanied by one other person. When possible, windows must be open at all times.

Are demonstrations allowed?

The coronavirus law authorizes the cabinet to set conditions of demonstrations, including limiting the number of participants and the distance among protesters, but protests cannot be barred entirely. During its discussion on Sunday, the cabinet has expressed its intent to place some restrictions on protests, including possibly limiting them to 1,000 meters from protesters’ homes.

Health Ministry director general Chezi Levy is due to present a proposal on the matter, but at this point, demonstrations are permitted without any restrictions related to the pandemic.

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