Israelis were placed under their second national coronavirus lockdown Friday, in a sign of what could be in store for European countries as the virus makes a rapid resurgence.
The move to a second lockdown, as the country ushered in the Jewish New Year, has proven deeply unpopular in Israel, sparking protests at the government’s response to the pandemic. The country — the first developed nation to go into a second lockdown — had already shut down from late March to May, but officials now acknowledge they lifted those restrictions too soon.
In recent days, new infections have surged to more than 5,000 daily, giving Israel one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world. The government aims to reduce that number to 1,000 before any of the restrictions are eased.
Under the sweeping new rules, Israelis will be forbidden from travelling more than 500 metres from their homes, with exceptions for activities like work, seeking medical treatment and shopping for essentials. Schools and other gathering places will be closed, and all leisure activity will be banned.
Hugh Lovatt, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations told VICE News that the coronavirus had added to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s woes.
“He faces public discontent with his government’s perceived mishandling of the pandemic,” he said, adding that his housing minister Yaakov Litzman had resigned over the decision to shut down the country over the Jewish holidays.
The lockdown is set to last at least three weeks, with social distancing restrictions and limits on worshipper numbers set to have a major impact on the Jewish holiday season.
The move has drawn vocal opposition from religious groups, business groups already struggling amid an economic downturn, and families who will be impacted by school closures. Critics have savaged the government’s response to the pandemic, accusing it of failing to enforce mask-wearing requirements or social distancing in low-compliance communities, or set up an effective contact-tracing regime.
Earlier this week, opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted that the “people responsible for the terrible failure in dealing with the coronavirus are putting us all under house arrest”.
“They themselves don’t believe it will help. The lockdown is an admission that they’ve given up, are helpless. We are paying the price,” he wrote.
In a televised address Thursday night urging the public to comply with the new restrictions, Netanyahu predicted other countries would soon be following Israel into a second national lockdown, echoing warnings from the World Health Organisation.
WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge said in Copenhagen on Thursday that spiking new infections across Europe should serve as “a wake-up call,” as they showed “alarming rates of transmission across the region."
He said that 300,000 new infections were reported across Europe last week alone — exceeding the total weekly cases during Europe’s first peak in March.
Major European countries including France, the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy are witnessing troubling rises in infections. Fast-spreading outbreaks have led officials to tighten local restrictions in places like northeast England, Madrid and the Bavarian resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and governments are increasingly weighing national lockdowns in a bid to stop a second wave as winter approaches.
According to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world has topped 30 million, and more than 946,000 have died since the pandemic began last year.