One week after ordering the country into a partial shutdown, Israel’s government has issued even more stringent restrictions as of Friday to curb rising coronavirus infections.
On Wednesday, Israel’s cabinet approved new lockdown measures that require the country’s 9 million citizens to remain within 1 kilometer (about a half mile) of their homes and all nonessential businesses to close. The increased restrictions on movement come during a month of Jewish holidays, when families often travel to celebrate and pray together, and ongoing demonstrations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
International flights out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport are also expected to be shut down, leading thousands of people to book last-minute flights out, Israeli media reported.
In the spring, Israel initially made headlines for its swift and successful efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. But in the months since, Netanyahu, already embattled in an election impasse and ongoing corruption charges, has faced increasing criticism at home over his handling of the pandemic and resulting economic fallout.
The latest round of restrictions will effectively cut off months of ongoing demonstrations in front of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence: People can now only gather to protest within 1 kilometer of their home and in groups of less than 20 socially distanced people.
The new regulations around protests were seen as a concession to ultra-Orthodox leaders, who form a core part of Netanyahu’s base and were angry that political demonstrations had been permitted while prayer services were restricted.
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities have had among the highest rates of infections. Some in these tightknit communities, where large and often impoverished families live together, have opposed limits put in place on prayer, weddings and funerals. These tensions were renewed this month after the government issued rules, and exemptions, for gatherings around the Jewish new year and subsequent festivities.
Netanyahu’s government has argued that now is an opportune time for a shutdown of the economy as many businesses are customarily closed in September to mark the holidays.