Israeli Prime Minister Announces New Countrywide Lockdown Starting Rosh Hashanah Amid Surge In Virus Cases

Israeli police seen at the entrance to the neighborhood of Ramot in Jerusalem as Israel enforces a lockdown; a night curfew, applied to some 40 cities all over Israel which have been badly affected by the Coronavirus. September 13, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel will reinstate a strict new countrywide lockdown this week amid a stubborn surge in coronavirus cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the announcement in a televised speech Sunday.

Beginning Friday, the eve of the Jewish New Year, schools, restaurants, malls and hotels among other businesses will shut down and restrictions on movement will be imposed. The lockdown is expected to last at least three weeks, when measures may be eased depending on morbidity.

Israel has seen a spike in cases over recent weeks that more tempered measures failed to bring down. It now has one of the world’s worst outbreaks, adjusted for population.

Israel earned praise earlier this year for its initial handling of the coronavirus domestically, moving quickly to seal the country’s borders and appearing to bring the outbreak under control. It has since been criticized for opening businesses and schools too quickly and allowing the virus to spread once again.

Earlier Sunday, a prominent Israeli minister who heads an influential ultra-Orthodox faction in the coalition government resigned in protest over the proposed lockdown. He expressed particular ire toward restrictions that will limit observant Jews from attending communal prayers at synagogues during the upcoming holidays.

Israelis typically hold large family gatherings and pack synagogues during the important fast of Yom Kippur, which comes days after the Jewish New Year.

Netanyahu has faced a national furor over his handling of the pandemic. Weekly protests demanding his resignation over corruption charges have now grown to include those demanding he resign over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, Netanyahu announced overnight curfews on some 40 cities and towns hit hardest by the coronavirus, including several with large ultra-Orthodox populations, but backed away from reported recommendations for full lockdowns after an uproar by politically powerful religious politicians.

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