Treasury predicts lockdown to cost economy NIS 11-12 billion

Israel goes into full lockdown amid confusion over protests, prayers

With record high infection levels, nationwide closure takes effect but lawmakers still bicker over public gatherings; Edelstein says he will propose emergency regulations

Police patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on September 25, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police patrol outside the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on September 25, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A sweeping new lockdown went into effect in Israel at 2 p.m. on Friday, as lawmakers continued to argue over possible restrictions for protests and public prayers.

Most proposed measures went into effect, however plans to limit demonstrations and prayers were not included as they fall outside the cabinet’s authority and had not yet received Knesset approval.

Hebrew-language media reports suggested that synagogues would in any case be closed for the Sabbath and on Yom Kippur would operate under the previous restrictions in place for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

The lockdown is slated to last two weeks, including the holiday of Sukkot. It may be extended if infection rates do not slow considerably.

Under the new rules, nearly all businesses will be closed, with the exception of specific companies and factories designated as “essential” by the Defense Ministry’s National Emergency Authority. Restaurants are permitted to operate on a home-delivery basis only.

People shop in Modi’in as Israel enters a new major lockdown, September 24, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israelis won’t be allowed to travel more than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from their homes, with the exception of specific activities that are exempted.

Police will be deployed on highways and at the entrances to cities and towns to ensure Israelis don’t attempt to travel during the lockdown.

Read more: Oh, the places you won’t go: Your guide to the latest lockdown

The measures included limits on protests and prayers that go beyond what the cabinet is authorized to impose by legislation passed earlier this year, and thus must be accompanied by Knesset approval of an amendment to the existing law governing coronavirus restrictions.

Lawmakers rushed the measure through its first reading late Thursday and sent the measure to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where it languished when the lockdown went into effect on Friday and the panel ceased its discussions for the day.

Shira Greenberg, the top economist at the Finance Ministry, estimated the lockdown would cost the economy between NIS 11 and 12 billion ($3.1 billion to $3.4 billion). Forecasts earlier in the week warned the cost of the lockdown could be NIS 35 billion ($10 billion).

“The regulations approved this morning significantly softened the restrictions presented in the coronavirus cabinet on Wednesday, thus reducing the cost of damaging GDP,” a Treasury statement released Friday said.

The Finance Ministry said the estimate covered the initial lockdown measures that went into effect before Rosh Hashanah through the end of the Sukkot holiday next month. It said it would update its forecast if the lockdown is extended past Sukkot.

Constitution, Law and Justice Committee debates changes to coronavirus law, September 25, 2020 (Screenshot/Knesset channel)

Government officials say a tightened lockdown is necessary after a closure imposed a week ago failed to keep people at home, but critics accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of including an unnecessary draconian shutdown of the economy to justify limiting protests against him.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Friday that he was proposing emergency regulations to bypass the Knesset and to limit public gatherings, including the protest set to take place near Netanyahu’s residence on Saturday evening, until lawmakers could pass the legislation next week.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during his visit at the Assuta hospital in Ashdod on August 20, 2020. (Flash90)

“I see public health, first and foremost,” Edelstein said. “I will not allow a risk to human life at any gatherings — not at demonstrations or at synagogues.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit have voiced their opposition to the move, with the Blue and White chief saying his party would not support it.

Experts say indoor prayers are a major incubator for the virus, with ultra-Orthodox cities and neighborhoods experiencing some of the highest infection rates in the country.

However, community leaders have warned that worshipers will rebel if synagogues are closed but protests are allowed, even though outdoor activities are considered less risky.

Workers from ‘Hevra Kadisha,’ Israel’s official Jewish burial society, prepare a body before a funeral at a special morgue for COVID-19 victims in Holon, Sept. 23, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The Health Ministry said Friday afternoon that a record-high 7,755 new virus cases were diagnosed a day earlier. The record number of diagnoses came after two consecutive days where the number of new infections neared 7,000.

The ministry said 29 people died since Thursday evening, taking the national reported death toll to 1,405.

A notably high 12.6 percent of the tests that came back Thursday were positive, the ministry said, with 63,342 tests carried out.

The total number of cases in Israel since the start of the pandemic stood at 215,273.

Of the 61,031 active cases, 700 were in serious condition, 176 of them on ventilators, the ministry said. Another 260 were in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

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