The cabinet on Tuesday morning was set to approve a closure and curfew over the Passover holiday to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus, amid uncertainty over when it will take effect and how long it will last.
Beginning at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Israelis will not be able to leave the communities where they live until Friday at 7 a.m., Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, while residents of some Jerusalem neighborhoods will be not be allowed to travel beyond restricted areas.
However, later Monday, Hebrew media, citing a draft of the measures to be approved by ministers, said the lockdown would only end on Saturday evening at 7 p.m. The reports also said restrictions on traffic would begin at Tuesday at 2 p.m., two hours earlier than cited by Netanyahu.
On the first night of Passover itself, which begins Wednesday evening, the prime minister said all Israelis must remain at their homes from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m. Thursday morning.
The measures are designed to keep Israelis from attempting to spend the festive Passover seder meal with relatives or others, which officials fear could lead to an fresh wave of infections and push Israel backwards just as initial signs of recovery have started to emerge.
The decision to pursue a general lockdown and curfew came after the government reportedly scrapped a plan to just place certain cities with large outbreaks under quarantine.
According to reports, the curfew measure will not extend to Arab towns, where Passover is not celebrated.
“We’re in a fateful week. A fateful week for the world and for Israel,” Netanyahu said in a televised statement from his official residence in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu said there were some “positive signs on the horizon,” but called on Israelis not become “complacent” and not to ease up on social distancing measures.
The lockdown over the holiday will tighten the emergency directives currently in place, with Israelis already banned from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes. Exceptions are made for work and purchasing essential supplies.
Netanyahu said the earliest that those ongoing restrictions would be rolled back is after the holiday of Mimouna, which immediately follows Passover.
“There is a realistic chance that if the trends continue, we’ll begin to gradually exit from the lockdown after Passover and Mimouna,” he said. “It depends on you. It depends on the fulfillment of the tough directives… Don’t get complacent.”
He said that when that easing of restrictions comes, it will be done on a phased basis, with those who are most vulnerable required to stay in isolation long after those those who less vulnerable are allowed out.
He also defended Israel’s testing strategy and said the country is determined to reach 10,000 tests a day, a figure he had already vowed Israel would reach this week.
As of Monday night, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rose to 8,904, an increase of 293 since the morning and 474 over the previous 24 hours.
Another eight people died from the virus on Monday, and another died Tuesday, bringing the death toll in the country to 58.
The Health Ministry said there were 140 people in serious condition, 109 of whom are on ventilators. It said another 197 were in moderate condition and that 670 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.
A top medical expert said Sunday that a slowing in the rise of cases in the past few days was encouraging: New cases had been doubling every six days until recently, he said, and now only every 11 days.
Experts are also pointing to the relatively slow rise in the number of patients on ventilators as a source of potential encouragement.