Coronavirus: Israel marks Jewish New Year with second lockdown

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Israel is entering a second nationwide lockdown to curb surging coronavirus cases, just as people begin to mark the start of Jewish New Year.

Rosh Hashanah is traditionally a time for big, family get-togethers.

But under the new three-week lockdown, Israelis must stay within 1km (0.6 miles) of their homes, with exceptions, and the number of people allowed in synagogues has been greatly reduced.

Israel currently has one of the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the world.

In the past week, new cases have reached daily highs of more than 6,000, and the country's leaders have apologised for their failure to contain the pandemic.

Israel has seen 1,169 deaths from Covid-19 and nearly 177,000 confirmed infections, according to a global tally kept by US university Johns Hopkins.

It is said to be the first developed nation to reimpose nationwide curbs.

However, the new national lockdown is widely unpopular, according to local media, with protests taking place before it came into force.

An Israeli woman wearing a clown outfit mocks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as she takes part in a demonstration against the government and an imminent and unprecedented second nationwide lockdown to tackle a spike in coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, on 17 September 2020.image copyrightJACK GUEZ

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that, if necessary, he will not hesitate to impose harsher restrictions.

What are the new measures?

The restrictions, which came into effect from 14:00 local time (11:00 GMT), are the most extensive imposed in Israel since the first lockdown, which ran from late March until early May.

Under the new restrictions:

  • No more than 10 people can meet indoors while groups of 20 are allowed outdoors
  • Schools and shopping centres must close
  • Israelis must stay within 1km of their homes, with some exceptions, including travelling to work or buying essential items
  • Non-governmental offices and businesses can stay open, but must not offer in-person services
  • However, supermarkets and pharmacies can remain open to the public

Mr Netanyahu has acknowledged the disruption the lockdown will cause to Jewish communities celebrating religious holidays that normally see families come together.

"This is not the kind of holiday we are used to. And we certainly won't be able to celebrate with our extended families," he said.

The restrictions on indoor gatherings will severely impact prayers in synagogues.

Religious Jews keep social distancing inside dividing cells while participating in the Slichot (forgiveness) prayer, the last prayer on the eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New year, at the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem, on 18 September 2020.image copyrightGetty Images

The second lockdown will cost the economy, which is in recession due to the pandemic, an estimated 6.5bn shekels (£1.4bn; $1.9bn), the finance ministry says.

"We are making every effort to balance health and economic needs," Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday in a televised address.

Chart shows countries which have seen a second rise in cases like Peru, Israel, South Korea and Australia
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Frustration and fears for the economy

Analysis box by Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent

Few here in Jerusalem dispute the need for a tougher approach, but there is frustration about how the government has handled the crisis. Unemployment has rocketed and many businesses are failing.

Moshe Shrefler's popular restaurant in Mahane Yehuda market was empty just before the lockdown and has recently seen a 70% drop in business.

"[With] this closure, I hope they're going to end this story once and for all," he says.

But mum of baby twins Shiran Ben Yossi has just lost her job and is less optimistic.

"It's going to be very hard," she says. "I'm afraid it didn't work the first time and it won't work the second time."

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