Israel Approves New Coronavirus Restrictions, Lockdowns on Weekends

A group of bachurim wear protective face masks, as they walk in the Old City of Yerushalayim, Thursday. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israel imposed a new weekend shutdown and tightened a series of coronavirus curbs in an effort to lower infection rates, amid growing public anger over the government’s handling of the crisis.

Full weekend lockdowns may be imposed from next Friday, July 24, after the government gains Knesset approval for the move.

People would be allowed to leave their homes this weekend but malls, shops, pools, zoos and museums would shut from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, the government said in a statement.

On all days, gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors – including shuls – and 20 people outdoors and restaurants would be allowed to serve take-out only, the government said. A further decision on whether to keep summer schools and nurseries open would be made by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Education Minister Yoav Galant strongly opposed closing schools because of the heavy toll it will take on the economy.

Out of 700,000 students, 895 have coronavirus, the Education Ministry reported – a tenth of a percent.

Gallant charged that the Health Ministry does not make data-driven decisions but rather “intuitive choices without the facts. I am opposed to closing the camps. If we do that, give parents at least a week to prepare.”

The Finance Ministry said that every day in which the camps are closed stands to cost the country NIS 300 million.

Netanyahu told the Cabinet: “We are making every effort to prevent a full lockdown. We are working according to the pace of the coronavirus, and we don’t have a lot of choices. This is not a normal situation. This is not a situation that allows us to take steps for a few days and hope it will turn out alright. The disease is changing quickly and we need to change along with it.”

Netanyahu warned that “the alternative steps are harsher and we are trying to avoid them. Ultimately, there may be no choice but to take them. However, at the moment, we are trying to make rapid decisions that we can agree on.”

Israel reopened schools and many businesses in May, lifting restrictions that had flattened an infection curve after a partial lockdown imposed in March.

But with the infection rate rising sharply in the past few weeks, many public health experts said the government had moved too fast while neglecting to take the necessary epidemiological steps to control the pandemic once the economy reopened.

Netanyahu admitted to ministers that although the government is pushing for the closure of restaurants, gyms, and fitness studios, the state does not have data about the number of infections detected there and the decision is “based on common sense,” but warned that a failure to curb the spread of the virus would result in 1,600 people in serious condition within three weeks a number hospitals would be unable to sustain.

The goal of the new restrictions is to reduce the number of new daily coronavirus patients to 400 by August 31, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat said, with the idea that the situation would be assessed again at the end of the summer.

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