Israel has headed into another lockdown, or at least a tightening of the third lockdown — or an extension of the second lockdown that never fully ended.
Whatever vague number it may be, for the next two weeks the country will be under a hermetic seal that includes no schools or daycare, no flights out of the country, only essential stores such as groceries and pharmacies open and a perimeter of travel to just 1 kilometer from home, which is less than a mile.
With COVID-19 infections on the rise again, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a full lockdown was the only solution.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic that is spreading at top speed with the British mutation. It has reached Israel and is claiming many lives,” Netanyahu said. “We need to impose a full lockdown immediately.”
“Every hour that we delay, the disease spreads even quicker and it is exacting a heavy price. Therefore, we need here not only the cooperation of the Cabinet ministers, and we have it, we need the cooperation of the citizens of Israel and I am certain that we have that also.”
Infections were getting to levels higher than had been seen in several months. This week more than 8,000 people in one day tested positive. The highest daily total was 9,000 and was reached in September in the middle of the second lockdown.
The death toll has surpassed 3,500 and patients in serious condition at Israeli hospitals are hovering at 900 with more than 200 on ventilators. Hospital officials warned that they were on the verge of being overwhelmed.
And this is happening despite a mass vaccination campaign that has seen nearly 1.5 million citizens getting inoculated in the past two weeks.
The lockdown began officially at midnight on Thursday. Police have mobilized 5,000 officers to fine anyone not in compliance with the new rules. Checkpoint will be set up around the country to ensure that people have staying within their radius, wearing masks and adhering to the other rules.
As was the custom in previous lockdowns, the ultra-Orthodox establishment plans to continue as normal keeping schools and yeshivas open.
Meanwhile, many businesses haven’t operated since the September shutdown. Gyms never reopened since then. Restaurants were only allowed to open for delivery and temporarily for takeaway. Malls reopened — for two weeks only before being shuttered again in this latest lockdown which technically began 10 days prior but was not deemed effective enough, hence the tightened rules.
Not to mention, not one tourist has entered the country since March when the bordered were closed. By the time this lockdown is completely rolled back, the tourism industry will be looking at a full year of no operation, and that after a record year.
Officials are already shattering hopes that this current lockdown will last only two weeks. The cabinet will reconvene in about 10 days to determine whether to extend it again or begin loosening some aspects.
Health officials have set low expectations for ending it on time, however. Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said “time is not the main factor, the rate of infection is.”
“We are on a slippery slope,” Levy said. “If people are not careful, we are playing with fate.”