Jerusalem: Israel government has decided to impose a lockdown lasting three weeks, the first country to reimpose such severe restrictions on a national scale, after a dramatic resurgence in coronavirus cases.
Fearing mass gatherings during a string of national holidays over the next month, the cabinet decided to shut down the country as of Friday, the Jewish new year, until October 9.
Speaking at a press conference, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said hospital heads had warned the healthcare system would be overburdened if infection rates continue to rise.
“They raised a red flag,” he said.
Netanyahu said people will be forced to remain within 500 metres from their homes, with exceptions for lone exercise. Schools and all but essential shops will be shuttered.
A gradual loosening of the rules would only be implemented if the rate of infection drops.
“I know these steps are a heavy price for us all,” he said. “These are not the holiday we are used to. We certainly won’t be able to celebrate with our extended families.”
With the country already hit by a deep, pandemic-induced recession, the decision to reinstate lockdown has divided the government and the nation.
Israel has reported almost 150,000 cases and more than 1,100 deaths – a relatively low mortality rate, although ministers have warned it could quickly rise as new infections have recently risen to 4,000 per day.