Israel is poised to declare the whole country a “red zone” due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, limiting people’s movements to a 500-meter radius from home and closing all non-essential businesses that serve customers in person.
The sweeping lockdown is set to take effect on September 18 at 6am local time, multiple Israeli media reported on Saturday. The Israeli cabinet is expected to approve the new stringent restrictions on the movement of people as well as on commerce as early as on Sunday morning, Haaretz reported.
Although concerns about an imminent “second wave” of the coronavirus, particularly regarding its possible overlap with the common seasonal flu, have been mounting and several European countries have already reported a surge in cases, Israel becomes the first nation to plunge back into a nationwide lockdown after the previous one was phased out back in May.
The draft resolution, prepared by the Health Ministry, and seen by Haaretz, halts or severely restricts the operation of all businesses that require staff to serve clients in person for at least two weeks. Residents will still be able to shop for groceries, with supermarkets and grocery stores being exempted from the ban. There is also an exception for medical supply stores, including drug stores, as well as for cell phone shops and repair services. All cafes and restaurants will be prohibited from serving diners inside, but allowed to offer delivery and takeout.
Those businesses, which will be allowed to operate under the lockdown, will have to cap the number of staff at 30 percent or at 10 people, depending on which figure is higher. The same 30 percent rule will apply to government offices.
Except for trips to get necessary supplies or to work, Israelis will have to abide by a 500-meter rule, meaning that they can go no further from their place of residence.
Perhaps the toughest restrictions of all will affect schools, which, according to the proposal, will shut their doors as early as Wednesday this week. Pupils, who have just started the new school year, are expected to switch to remote learning. The move will likely mean just another vacation for preschoolers, with the Israeli Preschools Council saying that educators would be forced to put the learning process on hold. The changes will not affect special education and boarding schools.
The move comes after the Jewish nation reported its highest daily toll of Covid-19 infections on Thursday – 4,038 cases, after crossing the 4,000 threshold for the first time on Wednesday.
Currently, there are more than 33,000 active cases in Israel, including nearly 500 people who are in a serious condition. Over 146,000 Israelis have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the outbreak there.
The new batch of restrictive measures is to be unveiled as the country is still reeling from the devastating economical impact of the first lockdown, which has driven the unemployment rate to some 20 percent and thrown the economy into recession.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently under investigation for corruption, has received massive pushback for his botched response to the pandemic as well as for longstanding corruption charges. Around 10,000 people hit the streets of Jerusalem on Saturday night, protesting against the Netanyahu government, as anti-government demonstrations continue for the 12th consecutive weekend.
The new Covid-19 restrictions are phase one of a three-step plan, which envisages the gradual lifting of measures as soon as the situation improves.