Israel is entering a second nationwide lockdown to curb the surge in coronavirus cases, just as people begin to mark the start of the Jewish New Year.
Rosh Hashanah is traditionally the occasion of large family reunions.
But as part of the new three-week lockdown, Israelis must stay within one kilometer (0.6 miles) of their homes, with a few exceptions, and the number of people allowed into synagogues has been drastically reduced.
Israel currently has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the world.
Over the past week, new cases have reached daily highs of more than 6,000, and the country’s leaders have apologized for their failure to contain the pandemic.
Israel has recorded 1,169 deaths from Covid-19 and nearly 177,000 confirmed infections, according to a global tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
It is said to be the first developed country to re-impose borders nationally.
However, the new nationwide lockdown is largely unpopular, according to local media, with protests taking place before it went into effect.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that, if necessary, he will not hesitate to impose more severe restrictions.
What are the new measures?
The restrictions, which took effect from 2 p.m. local time (11 a.m. GMT), are the largest imposed in Israel since the first lockdown, which ran from late March to early May.
Under the new restrictions:
- No more than 10 people can meet indoors while groups of 20 are allowed outdoors
- Schools and shopping centers must close
- Israelis must stay within 1 km of their homes, with a few exceptions, including commuting to work or purchasing essentials
- Non-government offices and businesses can remain open, but must not offer in-person services
- However, supermarkets and pharmacies may remain open to the public
Mr Netanyahu acknowledged the disruption the lockdown will cause to Jewish communities celebrating religious holidays that normally see families coming together.
“It’s not the kind of vacation we’re used to. And we certainly won’t be able to celebrate with our extended families, ”he said.
Restrictions on indoor gatherings will have a big impact on prayers in synagogues.
The second lockdown will cost the economy, which is in recession due to the pandemic, around NIS 6.5 billion (£ 1.4 billion; $ 1.9 billion), according to the finance ministry.
“We are doing everything we can to balance health and economic needs,” Netanyahu said in a televised speech on Thursday.
Frustration and fears for the economy
Few here in Jerusalem dispute the need for a tougher approach, but there is frustration with the way the government has handled the crisis. Unemployment has skyrocketed and many businesses are going bankrupt.
Moshe Shrefler’s popular restaurant in Mahane Yehuda Market was empty just before the lockdown and recently saw a 70% drop in business.
« [With] this closure, I hope they will end this story once and for all, ”he said.
But the mother of twin babies Shiran Ben Yossi just lost her job and is less optimistic.
“It’s going to be very hard,” she said. “I’m afraid it didn’t work the first time around and it won’t work the second time around. “
How has Israel handled the spread of Covid-19?
Israel has been internationally praised for its effective and rigorous controls at the start of the pandemic.
But it’s widely believed to have lifted these too quickly, and it now has one of the highest infection rates in the world.
President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday apologized for the failure of the country’s leaders to contain the virus since the end of the first lockdown.
But he also called on the Israelis to comply with the new measures: “This is a second chance and we must seize it because we will not get, I fear, a third,” he warned.
What is Rosh Hashanah?
- Rosh Hashanah is the two-day Jewish New Year festival
- It is a celebration of the creation of the world and marks a new beginning
- This is the time for people to reflect on the past year and ask for forgiveness
- Jews Believe God Looks At A Person’s Good And Bad Deeds In The Past Year And Decides What Next Year Will Be For Them
Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman resigned from the government on Sunday to protest the new measures.
Mr Litzman, who heads an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party, said the lockdown would prevent the Jewish people from celebrating their religious holidays, including Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, on September 27.
Many countries are experiencing a second outbreak of the virus. However, most governments now impose smaller local lockdowns in affected areas, rather than national lockdowns.