During an emergency meeting Thursday, ministers agreed to impose a full national lockdown on the population during weekends, shutter kindergartens, close restaurants (except for takeout and deliveries), limit indoor gatherings to 10 people and take a number of additional steps in an effort to halt spiraling coronavirus infections, according to Hebrew media reports.
The meeting, called by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss paths to stop the continued spread of the virus as daily cases broke a new record Thursday morning of 1,901 new infections over a 24-hour period, included key cabinet members, health professionals and other experts.
The measures still require full cabinet approval, which was expected to come in a meeting scheduled for Thursday evening.
A report on Channel 12 news indicated the weekend lockdowns would not take effect this weekend. It cited opposition from Blue and White party ministers and a request by Netanyahu for the Knesset’s Constitution Law and Justice Committee to begin preparing legislation for the lockdowns.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit also noted in a statement that he had not issued a legal opinion on the new measures, saying he’d learned about the proposed restrictions from the media.
“The legal position on the matter will be formulated and presented before the cabinet,” he said.
The nationwide lockdown on weekends would run from Friday to Sunday mornings, according to the reports. Citizens would be permitted to leave home only for essential needs, such as buying foods and medicine, helping those who require assistance with daily living, and other specifically approved tasks.
During weekend lockdowns, beach areas and malls would also be shut, as would houses of prayer, but would be open during the rest of the week, reports said. Prayer meetings would be limited to 10 worshipers, a drop from the current 19.
Other proposed general measures unanimously backed by the ministers included shutting down the education system from Sunday, which would close kindergartens, summer camps and summer schools; limiting outdoor gatherings to 20 people and indoor ones to 10; allowing restaurants to offer only takeout and delivery; and closing gyms and pools.
Public transportation will be reduced to 50% capacity, according to a report from the Ynet website.
In a statement, Netanyahu said the measures under discussion, which he did not elaborate on, were intended to “prevent the need for a general lockdown” in light of “the huge jump in morbidity to around 1,800 cases [a day] and the doubling of the number of severe cases every seven days.”
Under current rules, the cabinet has the power to immediately impose new restrictions, after which the Knesset has a week to decide whether to approve or rescind them.
The Health Ministry announced Thursday evening that the virus death toll gad risen to 383, reporting three new deaths since the morning.
The number of virus cases stood at 45,607, marking 1,939 new infections since Wednesday evening, a new 24-hour record, and close to the 2,000 daily-case benchmark that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has reportedly set as a trigger for a return to a full lockdown.
On Wednesday, Edelstein warned that only a “miracle” could avert a looming general lockdown, days after a Knesset committee overturned a decision to shut pools and gyms, drawing accusations that lawmakers were endangering public health by second-guessing cabinet moves.
On Tuesday, ministers and experts failed to come to an agreement on imposing stricter measures, with Gantz reportedly asking for more time before the country makes such a move.
Israel was initially seen as a success story after clamping down on the virus by imposing a strict lockdown in March and April, but saw the pandemic surge to unprecedented levels after reopening schools and rescinding almost all restrictions.
Experts have blamed a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact tracing program as main factors in the virus running riot.