Coronavirus: Israel considers nationwide lockdown as cases spike

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A woman walks by coronavirus graffiti in Tel Aviv (8 September 2020)Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Israel has experienced a resurgence of Covid-19 infections since May

Israel's cabinet is to consider whether to impose a nationwide lockdown, as the country struggles to halt a steep rise in coronavirus infections.

The health ministry reported 3,904 new cases on Wednesday, a new daily record that brought the total to 142,582. The death toll also rose by 11 to 1,054.

A week of overnight curfews and school closures began on Tuesday in 40 "red" areas with the highest infection rates.

But health officials are reportedly now recommending a month-long lockdown.

Israeli media said the proposed lockdown could take effect on Thursday - a day before the Jewish New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah - and include the closures of schools, restaurants, shopping malls, markets and event venues.

Another option under consideration is a so-called "breathing" closure in which businesses would close for weeks but movement would be less curtailed.

Israel was lauded in the spring for tackling the epidemic with early action that contained the spread of infection and saw a very low death rate compared to other countries.

Now the government is coming in for widespread criticism for losing control. A top scientist warned on Thursday that a crisis is "within touching distance" at some hospitals.

On Wednesday, 474 Covid-19 patients were seriously ill in hospital, while more than 1,000 people have died with the virus since the outbreak started.

The cabinet recently imposed school closures and new night-time restrictions in the worst affected towns.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government is doing "everything to maintain the economy and safeguard health and lives".

Israel has experienced a resurgence of Covid-19 cases since May, when it eased the nationwide lockdown imposed at the start of the pandemic.

Last week, the country reported the highest rate of new infections per capita in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the US.

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Recovered Covid-19 patients volunteer in Israel pilot

The cabinet had been expected on Sunday to approve the imposition of full lockdowns in 10 areas with the worst outbreaks, in line with a reported recommendation by the government's coronavirus tsar, Prof Ronni Gamzu.

But religious parties in the governing coalition opposed such a move, which would have affected four predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.

The mayors of those four areas warned Mr Netanyahu that they would stop co-operation with authorities if the lockdowns were imposed, while Interior Minister Arye Dery told the prime minister to impose a nationwide lockdown instead.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Benjamin Netanyahu says he is doing everything to maintain the economy and safeguard lives

The cabinet subsequently announced that overnight curfews would be imposed in 40 "red" cities and towns with high infection rates - a decision that Mr Netanyahu said was "well considered, responsible and committed to reality".

But with Rosh Hashanah approaching and the daily number of cases continuing to rise, Prof Gamzu is reportedly urging ministers to take further action.

The finance ministry is said to oppose a full lockdown because of the impact on businesses still reeling from the last one in the spring.