For the second time in a week, Israel was under a complete lockdown as authorities sought to prevent people taking part in celebrations for the end of the Passover holiday and the Mimouna festival, fearing gatherings could cause a spike in conronaviris infections.
From Tuesday at 5 p.m. until Thursday at 5 a.m., Israelis are barred from leaving their hometowns, or in the case of Jerusalem, the neighborhoods in which they live, according to the restrictions.
Some 9,000 police and Border Police are enforcing the lockdown and 44 roadblocks are being set up on intercity roads. The police effort was expected to deepen Wednesday evening for the start of Mimouna, a North African holiday, that normally sees people hosting large gatherings and traveling from home to home.
Bakeries and restaurants will remain closed until Thursday morning at 2 a.m., though supermarkets will be permitted to operate from Wednesday evening and food deliveries are permitted. This was to prevent crowds from gathering after Passover ends to purchase breads and other “unleavened” goods that many traditionally refrain from consuming during the holiday.
Public transportation has been canceled until Thursday at 5 a.m.
The rules do not apply to Arab communities.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night directed Israelis to celebrate the last night of Passover and Mimouna only with those they live with, as was the case for the first night of the holiday last week.
Netanyahu said the government was working on a plan to gradually lift restrictions on economic and educational activities and would decide on steps later this week, while stressing that these would be “slow and responsible.”
“I say to you from here: We’ll go out to a different reality from the one we knew before the global crisis,” he said.
He warned that even if the outbreak is contained, there is no way to prevent the virus from returning until a vaccine is developed.
“Only when a coronavirus vaccine is found will we be able to move on to the world of tomorrow, which will be like the world of yesterday,” he said. “But this is not the situation at the moment; therefore, everything will continue to be managed responsibly in order to protect the most precious thing we have – life itself.”
The new lockdown announced by Netanyahu came after he held consultations with ministers earlier in the day, with the Health Ministry reportedly concerned that the festive atmosphere during the last day of Passover and Mimouna would lead to a slackening of social distancing that has been a central plank in the country’s strategy for curbing the virus spread.
Israel is already under partial lockdown orders requiring all citizens to remain within 100 meters of their homes unless attending essential industries and jobs. Schools, leisure sites and most stores have been shuttered. The public has been ordered to only leave home for essential needs and all public gatherings have been banned. Intercity travel is generally permitted, provided the requirements for travel are met.
However, additional lockdown orders were applied Sunday to several Jerusalem neighborhoods with high coronavirus infection rates, with around 100 checkpoints set up around the capital to prevent travel to and from the restricted zones.
As of Tuesday evening, 119 people have died in Israel of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The Health Ministry updated Israel’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases to 11,868, including 136 people on ventilators.