Israel is entering into a second nationwide lockdown to contain the rising cases of coronavirus just as people begin to mark the start of the Jewish New Year.
Rosh Hashanah is traditionally a time for large family gatherings.
But under the new three-week lockdown, Israelis, with exceptions, have to stay within 1 km of their homes, and the number of people admitted to synagogues has been greatly reduced.
Israel currently has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the world.
In the past week, new cases hit daily highs of more than 6,000 and the country’s leaders have apologized for failing to contain the pandemic.
Israel has recorded 1,169 deaths from Covid-19 and nearly 177,000 confirmed infections. This emerges from a global balance sheet by the US University of Johns Hopkins.
It is said to be the first developed nation to reintroduce nationwide curbs.
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However, the new national lockdown is largely unpopular, according to local media, with protests taking place before it takes effect.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that he will not hesitate to impose stricter restrictions if necessary.
What are the new measures?
The restrictions, which came into effect at 2:00 p.m. local time (11:00 a.m. GMT), are the largest in Israel since the first lockdown, which lasted from late March to early May.
Among the new restrictions:
- No more than 10 people can meet inside, while groups of 20 people are allowed outside
- Schools and shopping centers have to close
- Israelis must stay within 1 km of their homes with a few exceptions, including traveling to work or buying essential items
- Non-government offices and businesses can remain open, but are not allowed to offer personal services
- However, supermarkets and pharmacies can remain open to the public
Mr. Netanyahu has acknowledged the disruption the lockdown will cause to Jewish communities that celebrate religious holidays when families usually come together.
“This is not the kind of vacation we’re used to. And we certainly won’t be able to celebrate with our extended families,” he said.
The restrictions on indoor gatherings will severely affect synagogue prayers.
The second lockdown will cost the economy, which is in recession due to the pandemic, an estimated 6.5 billion shekels (£ 1.4 billion; US $ 1.9 billion), according to the Treasury Department.
“We are doing our best to reconcile health and economic needs,” Netanyahu said in a televised address on Thursday.
Frustration and anxiety for business
Few here in Jerusalem deny the need for a tougher approach, but there is frustration with how the government has dealt with the crisis. Unemployment has skyrocketed and many businesses are failing.
Moshe Shrefler’s popular restaurant in Mahane Yehuda Market was empty shortly before the lockdown and recently saw a 70% decline in business.
“”[With] I hope that they will end this story once and for all, “he says.
But mother of twin babies Shiran Ben Yossi has just lost her job and is less optimistic.
“It’s going to be very difficult,” she says. “I’m afraid it didn’t work the first time and it didn’t work the second time.”
How has Israel dealt with the spread of Covid-19?
Israel received international praise for its effective and strict controls at the start of the pandemic.
However, it is widely believed that these were lifted too quickly, and it now has one of the highest infection rates in the world.
On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin apologized for the country’s leaders’ failure to contain the virus since the first lockdown ended.
But he also appealed to the Israelis to comply with the new measures: “This is a second chance and we have to seize it because I fear we won’t get a third,” he warned.
What is Rosh Hashanah?
- Rosh Hashanah is the two day Jewish New Year festival
- It is a celebration of the creation of the world and marks a new beginning
- It is a time for people to reflect on the past year and ask for forgiveness
- Jews believe that God takes into account a person’s good and bad deeds in the past year and determines what the next year will look like for them
The Minister of Housing, Yaakov Litzman, resigned from the government on Sunday in protest of the new measures.
Mr Litzman, who heads an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party, said the lockdown would prevent the Jewish people from celebrating their religious festivals, including Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, on September 27.
Many nations are experiencing a second surge in the virus. However, most governments are now imposing smaller local closures in the affected areas rather than blanket national closures.