Israel tightens Covid lockdown as infections climb

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Israel tightens Covid lockdown as infections climb

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet decided on Thursday to tighten the Israeli coronavirus lockdown after he said a surge in infections had pushed the nation to “the edge of the abyss”.

Israel returned for the second time during the pandemic on September 18. In the past week, however, the number of new cases a day has reached almost 7,000 for a population of 9 million, putting a heavy strain on the resources of some hospitals.

“If we do not take immediate and difficult steps, we will reach the edge of the abyss,” Netanyahu said in public remarks to the cabinet, which met for about eight hours.

A worker cleans a mattress in an underground car park that has been converted into an intensive care unit for coronavirus patients in the Israeli city of Haifa on Wednesday. Jack Guez / AFP – Getty Images

The new restrictions stipulate that all companies and workplaces, with the exception of those classified as material, must remain closed for at least two weeks from Friday. A list will be released later in the day, an official statement said.

Finance Minister Israel Katz and Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron opposed the new curbs, according to the Treasury Department, which estimated the damage from a three-week lockdown to the economy at around 35 billion shekels ($ 10.06 billion).

Israel is already in recession and unemployment is over 11 percent.

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Schools will remain closed, but synagogues will remain open next week on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, although the number of worshipers will be limited. Religious parties in the coalition government had spoken out resolutely against formwork synagogues.

A poll published Wednesday by the bipartisan Israel Democracy Institute found that only 27 percent of Israelis trust Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Thousands of demonstrators gather in front of his Jerusalem residence every week to demand his resignation over alleged corruption.

Netanyahu has denied activists’ allegations that the stricter lockdown rules, some of which have not yet been approved by parliament, are intended in part to suppress these demonstrations.

The current 1-kilometer limit for traveling from home, excluding activities such as shopping for groceries and medicines and commuting to work, now applies to participating in street protests.

Netanyahu has denied bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in a trial that will resume in January.

1,316 people have died in Israel since the outbreak began and around 200,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported.

The current second wave of infections followed a loosening of the lockdown imposed in March in May.

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