The cabinet on Tuesday approved a closure and curfew over the Passover holiday to stem the outbreak of the coronavirus, which will keep Israelis within their cities and towns and authorize police to detain violators.
The sweeping orders will also require Israelis to start wearing face masks outdoors beginning Sunday.
Following a several-hour meeting, ministers green-lighted emergency regulations that will ban all intercity traffic from 7 p.m. on Tuesday until Friday at 6 a.m. Supermarkets, food deliveries and other essential services will, however, continue to operate until Wednesday afternoon at 3 p.m., and then be allowed to resume Thursday morning.
In a tighter curfew, which coincides with the Passover seder, from Wednesday at 3 p.m. until Thursday at 7 a.m., Israelis will be banned from venturing out further than 100 meters from their homes and all businesses in the country will be shut.
From Thursday morning until Friday, Israelis will again be permitted to move within their cities and towns for essential needs, but cannot leave city limits. Exceptions will be made for those who do not have supermarkets and pharmacies in their towns, but they may go only to the nearest town with the services.
Jerusalem residents will be confined throughout the lockdown and curfew within the city zone they live in, after government officials sketched out a division of the city — which has the largest number of virus cases in the country — into seven portions.
According to the regulations, public transportation throughout the country will cease at 8 p.m. on Tuesday and resume Sunday morning. The government decision also cancels all international flights from Tuesday night through Sunday, unless the airlines receive special permission from the transportation and interior ministries.
The curfew measure will not extend to Arab towns, where Passover is not celebrated.
The measures are designed to keep Israelis from attempting to spend the festive Passover seder meal on Wednesday night with relatives or others, which officials fear could lead to an fresh wave of infections and push Israel backwards just as initial signs of recovery have started to emerge.
As of Tuesday, 60 people have died from the virus, which has infected just over 9,000.
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.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel could begin moving toward rolling back some restrictions after Passover if numbers continue to slide.
“There is a realistic chance that if the trends continue, we’ll begin to gradually exit from the lockdown after Passover and Mimouna (the day after Passover),” he said. “It depends on you. It depends on the fulfillment of the tough directives… Don’t get complacent.”
Israel is currently under a partial lockdown, in which people are allowed to venture from their homes for essential needs, such as shopping, and some jobs. Otherwise, they are confined to within 100 meters of their homes.
The decision to pursue a general lockdown and curfew came after the government reportedly scrapped a plan to place only certain cities with large outbreaks under quarantine.
Only one city, Bnei Brak, is under closure, though earlier this week, Health Ministry officials said other ultra-Orthodox towns with high infection rates and Jerusalem neighborhoods could be totally locked down as well.
Ministers also authorized police to prevent Israelis from leaving their cities and towns and detain violators.
Beginning Sunday, a Health Ministry order approved by ministers will require all Israelis leaving their homes to wear masks. This does not apply for people who live in the same home or work together, provided they uphold social distancing measures. The masks can be makeshift, or a scarf.
This order, which was previously a recommendation, comes into effect at 7 a.m. on Sunday.
“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 on Monday.
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.