Israel has entered a second national coronavirus lockdown, with residents facing at least three weeks of tough restrictions that will upend a normally festive period filled with Jewish holidays.
The cabinet released a full list of rules on Thursday, setting out a return to stringent measures Israelis had hoped were behind them when they endured a similar lockdown in spring.
As of Friday afternoon, with a few exceptions, people will be confined to a 1km radius around their homes, gatherings of more than 10 people inside will be banned, and schools, nurseries, restaurants, malls, gyms, hairdressers and hotels will be largely shuttered.
The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had said the move was essential after hospitals “raised the red flag” following a steep surge in Covid-19 cases. However, anger has flared over whether he reopened the economy too hastily following the previous lockdown.
In an address to the nation on Wednesday night, the country’s president, Reuven Rivlin, admitted the country’s leadership had not done enough. “You trusted us and we let you down,” he said.
“Tonight, I would like to say that I understand the feelings of confusion and uncertainty, the anxiety that many people are feeling,” he added, going on to apologise for breaking lockdown rules in April, when his daughter visited him.
“My loneliness is no more painful than the loneliness that many of you – who were so careful to follow the word and the spirit of the instructions – experience.”
On Thursday night, several hundred demonstrators in the coastal city of Tel Aviv protested against the lockdown amid the economic pressures. Resentment across the country has not just focused on government, but also on each other, with notable ire between secular and religious sections of society.
Parts of secular Israel feel that Netanyahu – whose government is propped up by Jewish ultra-Orthodox politicians – is allowing businesses to perish while going to extreme lengths to allow religious gatherings. They point to lockdown exemptions allowing rituals and even gatherings of dozens of people in some synagogues. Meanwhile, earlier proposals to lock down only ultra-Orthodox areas with high infections were scrapped following pressure from rabbis.
The chances that the lockdown will make residents even more miserable and deepen the rifts between Israeli society’s warring tribes actually look pretty high, writes Amos Harel https://t.co/uuSALOgCZ7— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) September 17, 2020
On the other hand, sections of religious Israel – notably the ultra-Orthodox communities who often live in poorer, cramped neighbourhoods – feel that they have been unfairly blamed for the spread of the virus, by which they have been disproportionately affected.
“We will not prevail through finger-pointing and toxic accusations,” President Rivlin said in his speech. “Only together.”
Israel has reported almost 170,000 cases and more than 1,150 deaths, a relatively low mortality rate, although ministers have warned that it could quickly jump as new infections have recently risen above 5,000 per day.
Officials fear that the High Holy Day period could see a dangerous spread of the virus as families and friends normally congregate indoors; ministers have urged the public to adhere to the rules.
Shoshana Chen, writing in the daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, expressed doubt that Israelis, who she said were filled with resentment at the government’s and each other’s alleged failings, would comply with a national effort.
“Anyone who strictly complies with those rules will be perceived, in their own eyes and by others, as being a sucker,” she wrote. “We will visit friends furtively and say that we’re going to the pharmacy … We’ll find a way to attend prayer services … We’ll shrug off the need to wear a mask. And the public’s voice will rise to the heavens, saying: ‘We showed you, you can’t tell us what to do’.”