Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced that Israelis would be barred from leaving their homes during the first night of Passover, as part of a general lockdown throughout the country over the holiday.
He also said restrictions meant to contain the coronavirus may begin to be rolled back after the holiday, but that the next few days were “fateful” to tackling the outbreak.
Beginning at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Israelis will not be able to leave the communities where they live until Friday at 7 a.m., Netanyahu said, while residents of some Jerusalem neighborhoods will be not be allowed to travel beyond restricted areas.
However, later Monday, Hebrew media, citing a draft of the measures that still need to be approved by the cabinet, said the lockdown would only end on Saturday evening at 7 p.m.
On Passover itself, which begins Wednesday evening, the prime minister said all Israelis must remain at their homes from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m. Thursday morning.
“We’re in a fateful week. A fateful week for the world and for Israel,” Netanyahu said in a televised statement from his official residence in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu said there were some “positive signs on the horizon,” but called on Israelis not become “complacent” and not to ease up on social distancing measures.
“Pesach won’t be Purim,” he declared, referring to the holiday festivities in early March that health officials believe contributed to the spread of the virus.
The lockdown over the holiday will tighten the emergency directives currently in place, with Israelis already banned from venturing more than 100 meters from their homes, but exceptions made for work and purchasing essential supplies.
Netanyahu said the earliest that those ongoing restrictions would be rolled back is after the holiday of Mimouna, which immediately follows Passover.
“There is a realistic chance that if the trends continue, we’ll begin to gradually exit from the lockdown after Passover and Mimouna,” he said. “It depends on you. It depends on the fulfillment of the tough directives… Don’t get complacent.”
He said that when that easing of restrictions comes, it will be done on a phased basis, with those who are most vulnerable required to stay in isolation long after those those who less vulnerable are allowed out.
He also defended Israel’s testing strategy and said the country is determined to reach 10,000 tests a day, a figure he had already vowed Israel would reach this week.
Netanyahu also addressed his phone call Monday with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, saying the Russian leader hinted at his support for a unity government in Israel.
Netanyahu says he was holding talks with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on an emergency coalition, and told Putin he was taking a break for their phone conversation. “It’s very important that you unite forces, for Israel’s sake,” Netanyahu quoted Putin as saying.
Netanyahu said some roadblocks remained in the way of a deal, but that he believes the sides can reach a coalition agreement. Blue and White called off the talks earlier Monday over what it said were Likud’s efforts to walk back understandings on judicial appointments, but most of the core disputes holding up a deal are reported to have been solved.
“With good will, and a joint effort, we can get there,” he says.
Netanyahu spoke shortly after the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rose to 8,904, an increase of 293 since the morning and 474 over the past 24 hours.
Another eight people died from the virus on Monday, bringing the death toll in the country to 57.
The Health Ministry said there were 140 people in serious condition, 109 of whom are on ventilators. It said another 197 were in moderate condition and that 670 Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.
A top medical expert said Sunday that a slowing in the rise of cases in the past few days was encouraging: New cases had been doubling every six days until recently, he said, and now only every 11 days.
Experts are also pointing to the relatively slow rise in the number of patients on ventilators as a source of potential encouragement.
Netanyahu said Monday that Israel’s “heart is with Bnei Brak,” the ultra-Orthodox city that has become a coronavirus hotspot, and condemned “terrible incitement” in the media and social media against the ultra-Orthodox.
The story of Passover is one of the exodus from Egypt, and of overcoming crisis, he said. “In every generation, we overcome crises,” he said.
This time, too, “we will overcome… We’re writing a resonant chapter in the history of our people and our stage.” And this, he said, would be a Passover of “exodus from isolation to freedom.”