Israel recorded 30 new deaths in 24 hours as the country’s coronavirus death toll climbed to 1,226 on Saturday, a day into a second national lockdown.
The lockdown was largely respected Saturday, with the country’s roads generally empty, as Israel marked the first of two days of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
There were, however, reports of some gatherings disbanded by police. These included hundreds of worshipers at a synagogue in Haifa on both Friday and Saturday, who packed the entrance to the synagogue without complying with social distancing; and a small party of several dozen people at a Tel Aviv beach Saturday evening, who claimed to be protesting against the closure.
Israel’s total coronavirus tally stood at 183,602, of which 49,927 were active cases as of Saturday. The previous day’s new case count stood at 5,299, continuing the trend of over 5,000 new cases per day over the past week.
Patients included 604 in serious condition, 165 of whom were on ventilators, and 256 in moderate condition. The rest of the virus carriers were in light condition or asymptomatic.
Of the 53,993 tests analyzed on Friday, 9.8 percent came back positive, according to Health Ministry figures.
Israel imposed a new national coronavirus lockdown starting on Friday, the country’s second this year, marking the first time in the world a developed country has imposed a repeat closure to curb the pandemic. The lockdown is set to last three weeks, but observers have said it might be in place longer as the country tries to battle record daily cases.
According to unsourced reports in the Hebrew media on Saturday, the government may tighten the restrictions this coming week.
The Health Ministry has indicated that daily cases need to be at about 1,000 before the government should consider lifting some of the lockdown measures.
In Tel Aviv on Saturday, around 200 people gathered on the beach to protest against the lockdown restrictions as well as against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic and his corruption indictments.
Organizers used a loophole within the regulations for the national coronavirus lockdown that allows people to travel beyond the permitted one kilometer from their home if they are to attend a protest. Closure regulations do not explicitly prevent demonstrating on the beach, although the beach is closed with the exception of those who use the shoreline for sport.
Some demonstrators performed sporting activities, while another blew a shofar — an activity which also has a travel loophole in the regulations.
The three-week shutdown, requiring the closure of many businesses and setting strict limits on movement and public gatherings, started just hours before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and will extend through other key religious holidays, including Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
On Friday, some 7,000 policemen and soldiers, backed up by local municipality personnel, were deployed throughout the country to enforce the closure using roadblocks and patrols. There have been concerns that an exhausted and exasperated Israeli public would be far less cooperative with the new sweeping restrictions than during the initial wave of the pandemic.
Fines for individuals who break rules are set at NIS 500 ($145) and for businesses at NIS 5,000 ($1,450).
Netanyahu said ahead of the closure that the government had been left with no choice but to impose a lockdown.
“The health system has raised the red flag… We did everything we could to strike a balance between the health needs and needs of the economy,” he said in a televised address on Thursday.
While the government was praised for its initial handling of the pandemic, implementing a strict lockdown in March, many Israelis have expressed frustration at the cabinet’s perceived mismanagement of the health crisis in recent months.
“This is no way to close a country,” ran a headline in the top-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday, which featured interviews with doctors, economists and teachers all opposed to the lockdown.
Israel is the first developed country to impose a second lockdown, though many Western nations have seen a new surge of virus cases in recent weeks, and some are considering fresh restrictions, including the UK.