Official: Lockdown may ease after Passover, but life to be ‘entirely different’
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'We’re still in a dangerous area,' says Meir Ben-Shabbat

Official: Lockdown may ease after Passover, but life to be ‘entirely different’

In briefing, national security adviser says Israel focusing on curbing virus spread, increasing preparedness and enabling a gradual return to a new normal

The empty promenade and beach along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, March 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
The empty promenade and beach along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, March 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

After the coming Passover holiday, the government may slowly ease restrictions around the country to allow the public to return to routine life, but one that is “entirely different” from what Israelis have been accustomed to, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat said Tuesday in a briefing to cabinet ministers.

According to Ben-Shabbat, who is coordinating the various government agencies’ response to the pandemic, the current policies are aimed at achieving four goals: slowing the spread of the disease; improving emergency preparedness as the pandemic rages on; creating conditions to return to normalcy; and, finally, a “slow, careful and gradual return to a routine that is entirely different from anything we knew before.”

The slow return to semi-normalcy will take place “only after Passover and only after the preparations have concluded,” Ben-Shabbat said.

“We’re still in a dangerous area,” he said. “All it takes is one day like Purim, or one local outbreak, in order to thwart all our efforts, and therefore we are obligated to continue with the existing limitations and follow all instructions.”

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Officials have said it could be many long months before life returns to its pre-pandemic state.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in Israel rose on Tuesday by five to a total of 20, and the number of sick surged to 5,358, a rise of 663 cases since the previous evening in the largest single-day increase recorded in the country.

According to the Health Ministry figures, the sick included 94 people in serious condition, of whom 76 were attached to ventilators. Another 105 people were in moderate condition, 224 patients had recovered, and the rest had mild symptoms.

Also Tuesday, the Health Ministry published a breakdown of the number of coronavirus cases by city. The one with the highest number of infections was Jerusalem, which had 650 cases, followed by Bnei Brak, a majority ultra-Orthodox city east of Tel Aviv, which followed with 571 cases, despite having less than a quarter of the residents of the capital.

Police on Tuesday set up checkpoints around Bnei Brak and were checking IDs of anyone trying to enter, as the government moved toward placing a cordon around the city of nearly 200,000.

Authorities have upped enforcement of social-distancing rules in Bnei Brak and other ultra-Orthodox areas, where some have flouted rules against congregating or leaving home for non-essential reasons.

Police officers man a checkpoint at an entrance to the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, which has seen a large number of coronavirus cases, on March 31, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Earlier, Channel 12 reported the Health Ministry was close to imposing a closure on Bnei Brak and had already prepared an injunction to go ahead; the city has the highest ratio of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection to tests carried out.

Israelis were ordered starting last Wednesday to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of approved activities, including for some work, purchasing food and medicine or taking a short walk no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from their home. Those found violating those regulations are subject to fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) or imprisonment.

The cabinet overnight Monday approved a set of new measures further tightening restrictions on the public amid efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, including a ban on prayer quorums and limits on funerals and Jewish circumcision ceremonies.

The new regulations also place further limitations on workplaces, seeking to lower the workforce outside homes from 30 percent to 15% of its full capacity, and instructing all those working outside their homes to take their temperature daily before coming in to work.

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