By Pablo Duer
Jerusalem, Sep 13 (efe-epa).- After months of trying to avoid it, Israel on Sunday announced that starting on Sept. 18 the country will go back into quarantine for three weeks to try and quash a second wave of the coronavirus, which is raging uncontrollably in the Jewish state, giving it one of the highest infection rates in the world.
The Israeli government has been warning for weeks about the possibility that the country would have to go back into total shutdown, and while for some that seemed no more than a threat to get them to adhere more strictly to social distancing others took the warning much more seriously and have been looking on with horror as the daily figures for newly confirmed cases have spiked.
Health authorities warned that if the number of confirmed daily cases exceeded 2,000 the country could be locked down again.
On Sunday, after last week 4,000 new cases were detected in a 24-hour period, and with hospitals on the way to becoming overloaded and the number of “serious” cases rising precipitously, the government has now decided that a renewed quarantine is what is needed to bring the outbreak under control.
Initially, the lockdown will last for three weeks – from Sept. 18 to Oct. 9 – and, as occurred in April during the Pesach (Passover) celebration, this will mean that three very important Jewish religious celebrations will be affected: Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles).
During this period, Israelis will not be able to venture more than 500 meters (about a third of a mile) from their homes – with the exception of people engaging in individual sports – and schools, hotels and shopping centers will remain closed.
In addition, no more than 10 people will be allowed to gather together in closed spaces, and no more than 20 will be allowed to congregate in the open air.
Supermarkets and pharmacies will be able to continue operating but all other stores will be closed to the public and will only be able to make home deliveries to consumers.
The public sector will reduce its activities to a minimum and the most of the private sector will be able to continue working normally but will not be allowed to interact face-to-face with the public.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address after announcing the move that “I know those measures will exact a heavy price on us all,” but he noted that only if residents of the Jewish state comply with the rules will the country be able to bring the virus under control. He went on to say that he was certain that people would abide by the new measures.
“This is not the kind of holiday we are used to. And we certainly won’t be able to celebrate with our extended families,” Netanyahu said.
The premier spoke just moments before boarding the aircraft that will take him to Washington where, on Sept. 15 at a White House ceremony, he will sign the agreements establishing diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The decision to implement a new quarantine was made after a Cabinet meeting lasting more than seven hours that, according to local media, included shouting and accusations among the various officials, who come from assorted political factions. The meeting was marked by the resignation of Construction and Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, an Ultra-Orthodox Jew.
During the discussion, in addition, several of the ministers warned about the damage that the move could do to the Israeli economy.
Amir Peretz, the economy minister, warned that the country’s economic crisis is not less serious than the health crisis and proposed that instead of a full quarantine only a nighttime curfew should be imposed that would allow businesses to continue operating during daylight hours.
Various unions and workers’ groups in recent days also have been expressing their rejection of the prospective decision, including during the regular huge weekly protests against Netanyahu that have been mounted for the past few months at various spots around the country.
During the time of the April quarantine, practically the entire Israeli population respected the measure, but after six months of the pandemic there is now less confidence in the authorities and a greater incidence of unemployment and this situation means that the public response could be different.
A number of business associations have said that their members are considering not abiding by the new restrictions.
To date, Israel, which has some nine million residents, has registered 153,759 confirmed virus cases, of whom almost 40,000 are active cases and more than 500 people are in very serious condition.