Ministers voted on Thursday to impose a full lockdown nationwide starting sometime next week, as Israel’s coronavirus outbreak continued to spiral ahead of the fall holiday period. The so-called coronavirus cabinet approved the outline on Thursday, and a full cabinet vote, with more details, will be held on Sunday.
The lockdown will take place in three stages, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry.
The specific dates for each stage have not been announced and the implementation of the second and third rounds of restrictions will depend on the outcome of the previous phase, the statement said.
Hebrew media said the first stage will likely go into effect shortly before the onset of Rosh Hashanah, on September 18, the second phase around October 1, and the last around October 15.
The first phase of restrictions will be the most severe, but the rules will then slacken, if morbidity levels decrease.
In the first stage of restrictions, Israelis’ movement will be limited to 500 meters from their homes. The educational system will be closed, except for special education. Fifth grade students and above will learn remotely for the duration of the holiday period.
Businesses and the public sector will be closed in the first phase, except for essential services, including supermarkets and pharmacies.
Some public prayers will be allowed, but the details have not yet been agreed on.
Restaurants will be closed, except for delivery. Activities related to leisure, entertainment, recreation, and tourism will all be barred.
In the second phase, transit between cities will not be allowed. Outdoor gatherings will be capped at 20 people, and indoor gatherings at 10.
Restaurants will remain closed, except for deliveries, and leisure and entertainment activities and malls will be closed. Business places will be barred from receiving customers.
Schools will remain closed. The renewal of in-person studies will be reviewed after the Sukkot holiday in early October.
The public sector will operate in an “emergency format,” the statement said, without providing details.
Private businesses, including offices and factories, will be limited to 30-50 percent worker capacity, and will not be allowed to receive customers. Anyone who is able to work from home should do so, the statement said.
In the third and final phase, the government will impose coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu’s “traffic light” plan, which addresses each city and town based on its morbidity rate.
The plan is meant to differentiate between locales based on their respective coronavirus infection rates, with “red” places subject to the strictest restrictions followed by “orange,” “yellow,” and “green” ones, with the latter enjoying the loosest rules regarding crowds in outdoor and indoor spaces.
Officials will conduct a situational assessment at the end of each phase before moving forward, to confirm a decrease in morbidity, and allow the country to enter the next phase.
Public transportation will be adjusted to match the needs of the public throughout the process.
The Finance Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and the head of the National Economic Council will put together an “economic safety net” for business owners and members of the public who are expected to experience economic hardship during the lockdown.
The initial ministerial vote on the new plan came as Health Ministry figures showed 20 people had died between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday, raising the death toll to 1,075 and underlining worries of Israel’s health system being overwhelmed by an influx of seriously ill patients.
There were 22 deaths in the 24 hours preceding the announcement, topping the previous single-day high of 21.
Over 4,000 new infections were also recorded for the first time. Figures showed that 4,015 infections had been recorded from Wednesday evening to Thursday evening.
There have been 144,267 total cases of coronavirus in Israel since the start of the pandemic, with 33,681 active cases as of Thursday night.
The number of patients in serious condition spiked to a record 488, with 143 of them on ventilators. There were an additional 181 patients in moderate condition while the remainder of cases were of Israelis feeling minor to no symptoms at all.
The ministry said that 44,964 tests were carried out on Wednesday, another record high, but the positive rate remained at 9.2%, a figure that has stayed consistently high over the past several days.
Gamzu told ministers on Thursday he is hoping the impending widespread measures will drop the number of daily cases from their current 3,500 to 600-700 infections — the approximate level Israel was at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.