Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced a nationwide lockdown for the end of the Passover holiday and the Mimouna festival, while warning Israelis they will continue to face some restrictions on their lives until a vaccine for the coronavirus is developed.
From Tuesday at 5 p.m. until Thursday at 5 a.m., Netanyahu said Israelis would be barred from leaving their hometowns, or in the case of Jerusalem, the neighborhoods in which they live.
He stopped short of announcing a curfew that would confine Israelis to their homes, as was in place for the first night of Passover.
The cabinet approved the new lockdown measures late on Monday.
The premier also said bakeries will not open right after the end of Passover on Wednesday night to avoid the rush of crowds, but rather only on Thursday morning.
Netanyahu directed Israelis to celebrate the last night of Passover and Mimouna, a North African holiday that begins Wednesday evening, only with those they live with, as was the case for the first night of the holiday last week.
The prime minister also acknowledged widespread public criticism against him for hosting his son Avner for the Seder, despite calling on Israelis not to celebrate the holiday with family members they do not live with.
Netanyahu said he should have been stricter about the rules, but did not apologize or address whether the video showing him with his son was filmed when the premier was supposed to be in self-quarantine.
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.”
Netanyahu also stressed his commitment to forming a unity government with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, as the latter’s mandate to assemble a coalition was set to expire at midnight.
If the terms for a government were not agreed to by then, Netanyahu vowed to “continue to make every effort to obtain the unity that the country so needs in these days.”
Wrapping up his remarks, Netanyahu referred to the biblical parting of the Red Sea, part of the Passover story.
“Even if it’s hard like the parting of the Red Sea, together we’ll get over the coronavirus and together we’ll defeat it,” he said.
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 Monday evening, 116 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 11,586, including 183 in serious condition and 132 people on ventilators. Another 162 people were in moderate condition, the ministry said, adding that 1,855 had recovered and that the rest were displaying mild symptoms. More than 7,000 of those diagnosed with the disease are being treated at home.