Israel Lockdown Begins, Schools to Stay Open

israel lockdown
 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel entered its third nationwide lockdown on Sunday amid heated controversy over how it should affect the school system and the role of politics in the decision-making.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein vehemently criticized a decision by the Knesset coronavirus oversight committee to allow all grades to have in-person classes during the shutdown, overriding a government decision to keep grades 5-10 at home where they would learn by teleconference.

Edelstein said it was a “wretched decision to allow studies in all grades — something that will certainly prolong the lockdown.”

The lockdown, which began at 5 p.m. on Sunday, bars Israelis from entering another person’s home; restricts movement to one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) from home, with exceptions, such as for grocery shopping and vaccinations; shuts down commerce (except for essentials), leisure and entertainment; limits public transportation to 50% capacity; and limits workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity. Fines for violators stand at NIS 500 ($155).

The closure is set to last two weeks, but officials have been saying that it will likely be longer than that before infection levels come down to a level safe for reopening.

“I assume that the lockdown will take between three and four weeks, but if the full education system returns to activity, it will take longer,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, told Army Radio.

“Lockdowns save lives,” said coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Sunday, shortly before the lockdown began.

“We are in a race between the rising morbidity and the vaccines,” he said. “The vaccine campaign is going exceptionally well. We have managed to vaccinate nearly 300,000 people, and at the same time, the vaccines are streaming into Israel according to plan and we will receive more during the coming weeks.”

On the other side, New Hope member Yifat Shasha-Biton claimed that the lockdown was unnecessary and “unequivocally political.”

Shasha-Biton, a former Likud member who defected to Gideon Saar’s new right-wing party, told Channel 12, when asked if the measure isn’t necessary, “The answer is no, absolutely not. This lockdown is unequivocally political. I can’t find a single reason why we are heading into another lockdown when we haven’t even lifted the second lockdown.”

To compound the situation, the Teachers Union announced a labor dispute over its call for its members to be given priority in the national vaccination campaign.

The union says in a statement that if the issue is not resolved by January 12, it will walk out, including distance learning.

The secretary-general of the union, Yaffa Ben-David, said, “If there are no vaccines, there will be no studies. We will not agree to abandon the health of the teaching staff.”

Meanwhile, in the business sector, which has suffered tens of thousands of bankruptcies, grumbling and anger mounted.

“I don’t think stores will be closing down during this lockdown,” said Ilan Ben-Harosh, an activist for the business community who owns an electronics store in central Yerushalayim.

“People cooperated in the first and second lockdowns, but everyone sees this as a political move, calculated by people making NIS 50,000 a month in Knesset. I’m afraid there will be riots in the streets, even bloodshed,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “We see how the large supermarket chains like Shufersal and Rami Levy are allowed to remain in operation, selling everything we sell on their websites, taking all of our clients, while we are left to die. People aren’t going to cooperate because they have nothing left to lose anymore.

Keren Tennenbaum from the Golan Heights similarly expressed frustration over the latest edict, forcing her to close down her restaurant. “Over the last ten months, we have been open for only about two months. The rules keep changing. First one lockdown, then another.

“Sometimes takeaway was allowed, sometimes not. Our restaurant has a large open garden, but you aren’t allowed to sit here. So I’m expected to tell people to take their food and go sit at the park nearby, instead of in my garden. It’s a joke,” she said.

“I’m going to close the restaurant for now. I don’t know what will be in the future.”

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