Israeli health officials are to impose a partial national lockdown ahead of Rosh Hashanah, after its Covid-19 tzar said the country was facing “pivotal moment” in its fight against the virus.
It is a fight that Israel is not winning, as evidenced by the exasperation of coronavirus commissioner Prof Ronni Gamzu in Thursday’s tense TV address, after a staggering 3,074 new cases were confirmed earlier that day – a new daily record.
In a moment that may ignite internal tensions, Gamzu pointed the finger at the country’s Arab and strictly Orthodox populations for not social distancing, saying infection rates in both communities – Israel’s two poorest – have soared.
A swift and total national lockdown in March acted as an effective stopper on the virus’s spread, but an equally swift easing of social restrictions in May has since been acknowledged as a deadly mistake by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Gamzu, who is charged with leading the country’s response, ended up shouting to cameras in an emotionally charged address, saying: “Please, no weddings now, no mass gatherings … anywhere.”
A day earlier he toured Jerusalem’s Beitar Illit, where a numbing 14 percent of the population have now tested positive.
Gamzu said a “full closure” would be implemented if infection rates remained as high, specifically citing yeshiva students as a source of the spreading, but members of United Torah Judaism in turn accused him of “making populist headlines and saying and doing things that harm the ultra-Orthodox communities”.
On Thursday, Gamzu stuck to his line, saying: “There are cities in Israel that will be put under curfew and closure in the coming week and face economic, social and personal hardship.”
About 30 towns and cities, all either Arab or Charedi majority, are already in that situation, and anger is now being aimed at Arab towns such as Nazareth, where hundreds of people have attended wedding parties, despite a national limit of 30.
Street protests against Netanyahu by people angered at his handling of the pandemic have continued apace, even spreading beyond Israel’s borders, with Israelis in the UK recently demonstrating outside the Israeli embassy in London.
There have now been 122,799 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, with more than 24,200 active cases, and 985 deaths. Israel’s coronavirus cabinet is next due to meet on Thursday 10 September.
In the densely packed Gaza Strip, where humanitarian aid organisations have long feared that the virus could kill tens of thousands quickly, authorities began implementing its own set of lockdown restrictions this week, as rates spiked.