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Coronavirus: Israel marks Jewish New Year with second lock

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A masked couple takes a walk at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on September 17, a day before Rosh Hashana

image copyrightGetty Images

captionIsrael emerged from its first severe lockdown in May

Israel enters a second nationwide lockdown to curb growing cases of coronavirus, just as people begin to mark the beginning of the Jewish New Year.

Rosh Hashanah is traditionally a time for large family gatherings.

But during the new three-week lockdown, Israelis must stay within 1 mile (0.6 miles) of their homes, with one exception, and the number of people allowed in synagogues has dropped sharply.

Israel currently has one of the highest rates of Covid-19 infection in the world.

In the past week, new cases have reached daily peaks of more than 6,000, and the country’s leaders have apologized for failing to maintain the pandemic.

Israel has seen 1,169 Covid-19 deaths and nearly 177,000 confirmed infections, according to a global figure by Johns Hopkins University.

It is said to be the first developed nation to introduce nationwide curbs.

  • WHO warns Europe of “very serious” Covid wave

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According to local media, however, the new national shutdown is widely unpopular and protests are taking place before it takes effect.

image copyrightJACK GUEZ
captionThe country’s leaders were mocked over a protest in Tel Aviv on Thursday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that, if necessary, he will not hesitate to impose stricter restrictions.

What are the new measures?

The restrictions, which took effect from 14:00 local time (11:00 GMT), are the most extensive imposed in Israel since the first lock, which lasted from late March to early May.

Under the new restrictions:

  • A maximum of ten people can meet indoors while groups of 20 are allowed outdoors
  • Schools and shopping malls must be closed
  • Israelis must stay within 1 km of their homes, with certain exceptions, including traveling to work or buying important things
  • Non-governmental offices and companies may be open, but may not offer personal services
  • However, supermarkets and pharmacies may be open to the public

Mr Netanyahu has acknowledged the disruption the lock will cause to Jewish communities celebrating religious holidays that normally see families reunite.

“This is not the kind of holiday we are used to. And we will certainly not be able to celebrate with our extended families,” he said.

The restrictions on indoor meetings will seriously affect the prayers in synagogues.

image copyrightGetty Images
captionReligious Jews maintained social distance while attending the last prayer before Rosh Hashanah, ahead of the new nationwide lockdown

The second shutdown will cost the economy, which is in recession due to the pandemic, an estimated 6.5 billion kronor (1.4 billion pounds; 1.9 billion dollars), says the Ministry of Finance.

“We are doing everything we can to balance health and financial needs,” Netanyahu said on Thursday in a televised address.

Frustration and fear of the economy

Few here in Jerusalem question the need for a tougher strategy, but there is frustration over how the government has handled the crisis. Unemployment has risen sharply and many companies are failing.

Moshe Shrefler’s popular restaurant in the Mahane Yehuda market was empty just before the closure and has recently seen a 70% decline in business.

“[With] this closure, I hope they will end this story once and for all, he says.

But mother of twins Shiran Ben Yossi has just lost her job and is less optimistic.

“It will be very difficult,” she says. “I’m afraid it did not work the first time and it does not work the second time.”

How has Israel handled the spread of Covid-19?

Israel was internationally acclaimed for its effective, tight controls early in the pandemic.

But it is generally seen as having lifted these too fast and it now has one of the highest rates of infection in the world.

image copyrightGetty Images
captionPeople took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Thursday to condemn the government and its new measures

On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin apologized for the country’s leaders’ failure to limit the virus since the first lockout ended.

But he also appealed to the Israelis to follow the new measures: “This is a second chance and we must take it because we do not, I fear, get a third,” he warned.

What is Rosh Hashanah?

  • Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year festival that lasts for two days
  • It is a celebration of the creation of the world and marks a new beginning
  • It’s a time for people to reflect on the past year and ask for forgiveness
  • Jews believe that God takes into account the good and bad deeds of people over the past year and decides what the next year will be like for them

Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman resigned from the government on Sunday in protest of the new measures.

Mr Litzman, who leads an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party, said the lock would prevent Jewish people from celebrating their religious festivals, including Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, September 27.

Many nations are experiencing other outbreaks of the virus. But most governments are now introducing smaller local suspensions in affected areas, rather than national ones.

media textRecovered Covid-19 patients are volunteers in Israel pilot

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