Renewed restrictions on public gatherings came into effect at 8 a.m. on Friday morning with indoor events mostly limited to 20 people, as the Health Ministry announced the number of cases diagnosed in the past 24 hours had again broken previous records.
The new limitations, approved by the cabinet on Thursday evening, included a limit of up to 20 people in most closed spaces, including inside homes, and up to 50 people at synagogues, event halls, bars and clubs.
A decision on restaurants was put off for several days amid disagreements between the health and finance ministries.
Synagogues were initially included in the 20-person limitations, but were upgraded after a conversation between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, according to a statement from the latter’s office.
The Health Ministry on Friday morning reported 1,090 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours, its highest-yet number of newly-confirmed daily cases.
There was one more death since Thursday evening, bringing the national toll from the pandemic to 325.
There were 70 people in serious condition, 27 of whom were on ventilators, and 67 in moderate condition.
The ministry said there have been 27,542 cases since the start of the pandemic, of which 9,618 were active; 17,599 people have recovered.
Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced the renewed measures at a press conference on Thursday, in which the premier said “the virus is still here, in a big way.” The challenge is not simple and “the battle will take time,” he said.
“At the current pace, what seems [like] reasonable [numbers] will turn into tens of thousands of infections. We cannot [allow ourselves to] get there,” he said.
Netanyahu said he was concerned with keeping the economy going, but that this needed to be done with respect for the virus, comparing the necessary policy to “playing an accordion” — sometimes being opened and sometimes closed.
“We are always looking for the balance between the virus and the economy,” he said. “It’s easiest to leave things as they are. Everything’s open, everyone’s supposedly satisfied, but if we do that, we’ll very quickly lose control.”
Netanyahu said that there had been a 50 percent rise in serious COVID-19 cases since the start of the week, pushing back against those who say there are not many serious cases.
“We need to return to restrictive policies in order to flatten the curve,” he said.
At an earlier meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a ministerial panel overseeing the country’s pandemic response, the Health Ministry also called for raising the fine for failing to wear face masks, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.
Police said Thursday they were set to step up enforcement of distancing rules from the weekend, and would launch an enforcement campaign focused on event halls.
Though it has limited gatherings, closed off highly infected areas, and reinstated the controversial Shin Bet security service surveillance of carriers, the government has previously refrained from reimposing a nationwide lockdown to stem the outbreak due to the economic damage such a step would cause.
Israel managed to bring down the number of daily cases to low double-digits in May, after weeks of a nationwide lockdown. Since reopening the economy, however, virus cases began to steadily climb.