The government gave final approval to a nationwide lockdown set to begin Friday, authorities announced Thursday morning, as Health Ministry figures showed a modest drop in new infections Wednesday after a record-smashing spike a day earlier.
Most ministers voted to okay a roster of new restrictions that will prohibit people from traveling more than 500 meters from their home, along with a list of exceptions.
While ministers had earlier okayed a lockdown that would be lifted in stages after three weeks, the government decision did not detail an end date, signaling it could be open-ended.
Under the final rules, Israelis may move beyond the 500-meter limit to: go to work; purchase food or essential supplies; aid the elderly or those in need; go to a doctor’s appointment, including alternative medicine, or therapy; go to the Knesset; attend a protest; donate blood; participate in legal proceedings; exercise, alone or with members of the same household, provided the starting point is from home; attend a funeral or circumcision; go to the airport; for women, travel to a ritual bath or mikveh; care for animals.
Additional exceptions are made for: Cantors and shofar-blowers on the High Holidays; transferring minors between divorced parents; traveling to and from educational frameworks that remain open, including special education. Residents of welfare programs or programs for people with disabilities and their relatives are permitted to move freely between the institutions and homes. First-degree relatives of fallen soldiers during the Yom Kippur War may attend memorials, the rules stipulate.
The rules ban Israelis from visiting others’ homes or going to the beach, with the exception of exercise on the shore for those who live nearby. Gatherings are capped at 10 indoors; 20 outdoors. No more than three people may travel in the same car, except for members of the same family. For larger vehicles, another passenger is permitted per each additional row of seats. Malls, swimming pools, gyms, hairdressers, hotels, other leisure services are closed. Supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware stores, electronic stores, laundromats and additional stores deemed essential will remain open.
The regulations also lay out a framework for prayer during the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holidays, while stressing that those attending services must live within 500 meters.
For outdoor services, no more than 20 may attend. Those attending must keep social distancing, with an empty seat between worshipers, and no food can be served.
For indoor services, worshipers must be divided into groups of 10 or 25 (10 for so-called red cities with high infection rates; 25 for orange cities with moderate rates of infection), with the “capsules” separated by plastic. The total number of worshipers permitted is dependent on the size of the synagogue and the local rate of infection. For “red” cities and areas, synagogues with two entrances can house up to 30 worshipers, with the number increasing by 20 per each additional entrance. For “orange” cities and towns, the rule is 50 worshipers per synagogue entrance. The synagogues must accommodate four square meters per worshiper, with this rule overriding the others.
The regulations also introduce limits on passengers on public transportation. It places the public sector on emergency footing, with reduced in-office workers. This does not apply to the private sector, which may continue operating, provided it does not offer in-person services or hold meetings with more than 10 people present.
Israelis will be permitted to leave their homes to purchase Sukkot holiday items, including the ritual lulav and etrog, the rules say.
The regulations must still be approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which will convene at 11 a.m.
Israel has seen virus cases surge in recent weeks, giving it one of the highest infection rates per capita in the world. On Tuesday, it hit an all time high of around 5,500, but on Wednesday dropped back down to 4,537 new cases, according to initial Health Ministry data released Thursday morning.
The figure is still far higher than the 1,000 daily cases the Health Ministry is aiming for before it will consider lifting some of the lockdown measures that will see movement restricted, leisure sites closed, and the education system shuttered, among other limitations.
The death toll Thursday morning stood at 1,165, and ministry figures tallied 13 new deaths on Wednesday.
The ministry also showed a large spike in recovered cases, with 2,400 patients being taken off the active cases tally over seven hours overnight. Authorities did not explain the surge.
There are now 44,984 active virus patients in the country, of which 549 are in serious condition. There are 140 people on ventilators. A total of 1,163 people are hospitalized with the virus.
Since the start of the pandemic 171,768 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or nearly 2 percent of the population.
On Wednesday, Heath Minister Yuli Edelstein and his deputy Yoav Kisch warned that the lockdown could not be expected to bring a significant drop in daily cases, but was hoped to at least stop the rate of increase.
According to Army Radio on Thursday, Edelstein has said in closed-door meetings that the lockdown will likely be extended beyond three weeks and rules could be tightened further.
Kisch said that when the figure is brought down to 1,000 new cases a day the government will be able to consider lifting some restrictions.
The lockdown has faced opposition from religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews because it will impact prayer during the High Holidays, from business owners because of the loss in trade, and from the general public because the closure of the education system will force many parents to miss work as they stay home to care for young children.