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Israel Tightens 2nd Lockdown Amid Virus09/24 06:09


   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel on Thursday moved to further tighten its second 
countrywide lockdown as coronavirus cases continued to soar, ordering all 
nonessential businesses to close and requiring people to stay within 1,000 
meters (yards) of their homes.

   Prayers during the ongoing Jewish High Holidays, as well as political 
demonstrations, would be limited to open spaces and no more than 20 people, and 
participants would have to remain within the restricted distance from home.

   The measures are set to go into force on Friday afternoon, as the country 
shuts down for the weekly Sabbath ahead of the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur on 
Sunday and Monday. Even during normal times, Israel completely shuts down for 
Yom Kippur, with businesses and airports closed, roads empty, and even radio 
and television stations going silent.

   The restrictions on demonstrations are subject to approval by the Knesset, 
Israel's parliament, and the limits on both prayers and protests could spark a 
backlash. An anti-lockdown demonstration was planned for later in the day in 
front of the Knesset.

   Israel's politically influential ultra-Orthodox community has objected to 
limits on public prayer during the ongoing Jewish High Holidays, and opponents 
of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have accused the government of using the 
lockdown as a cover to end weekly demonstrations against his handling of the 

   The government ordered synagogues to close for the lockdown, which is 
expected to last for at least two weeks, but said they could open with 
limitations for prayers on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

   Hagai Levine, a professor of epidemiology and a member of an expert panel 
advising the government, warned that allowing Yom Kippur prayers in synagogues 
could lead to mass transmission.

   He went so far as to compare it to the 1973 war, when Egypt and Syria 
launched a surprise attack on Israel during Yom Kippur. "Now, it's no surprise. 
We are going to have a massive problem and massive transmission on Yom Kippur 
in a few days," he said.

   He said the government should instead impose a complete lockdown for a short 
period to underscore the seriousness of the situation, followed by the gradual 
easing of restrictions on essential but low-risk activities.

   Israel is currently reporting nearly 7,000 new daily cases, making the 
outbreak in the country of 9 million people among the worst in the world on a 
per capita basis.

   Israel won praise this spring when it swiftly moved to seal its borders and 
shut down most businesses. By May, its daily rate of new cases had dropped into 
the double-digits. But then it reopened the economy too quickly, leading to a 
surge of new infections over the summer.

   In recent months, a national unity government that was formed to address the 
pandemic has been mired in infighting, with authorities issuing unclear and 
sometimes contradictory guidelines, leading much of the public to disregard the 

   Many businesses, meanwhile, have yet to recover from the earlier lockdown, 
and the new restrictions are expected to take a heavy toll on the economy even 
though they are being imposed during the holidays, when many businesses would 
ordinarily scale back hours.

   Israel has reported a total of more than 200,000 cases since the pandemic 
began, including 1,335 deaths. It has more than 50,000 active cases.

   The Health Ministry says at least 667 people are hospitalized in serious 
condition, and in recent days health officials have warned that hospitals are 
rapidly approaching full capacity.

   The government last week imposed a nationwide lockdown that closed schools, 
shopping malls, hotels and restaurants, making Israel the first developed 
country to impose a second closure. But the restrictions included numerous 
exceptions, including allowing people to leave their homes for work, exercise, 
prayers and public demonstrations.

   The new lockdown is expected to eliminate most of those loopholes.

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