Israel headed for second nationwide coronavirus lockdown

Photographer: Emmanuel Dunand / AFP via Getman Image

Israel is set to enter a second coronavirus lockdown and become the only developed country to reopen after a nationwide shutdown, with the transition escalating after a reopening of the economy.

An internal cabinet of ministers approved a two-week, full-shutdown lockdown late Thursday evening, followed by two-week strict limits on movement and economic activity. After that, if the situation improves, the ban will be applied only to communities with large outbreaks. The plan is subject to the final approval of the full cabinet on Sunday and some ministers are facing opposition.

The Internal Cabinet took an extraordinary step after seeing daily cases ranging from five cases in late May to more than 4,000 days this week. The lockdown is expected to take effect on Wednesday or Friday, according to the Ynet website, on the eve of the Jewish holiday season.

Israel is struggling to stop a renewed outbreak

The economic damage would be severe, with approximately one-fifth of the labor force still out of work, although the country reopened by the end of May. The Chief Economist of the Ministry of Finance estimated that a one-month lockdown would cost Israel’s economy about 15 billion shekels ($ 4.4 billion).

The Bank of Israel forecast last month that the economy would contract 7% this year in the event of the disease growing, and projected the 2020 government deficit to be as high as 14.6% of output.

A new lockdown would also be a nuisance for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governing coalition, created in May with the aim of combating a virus outbreak that was brought under control with swift and decisive action in the early months. Israel returned to normal life with caution that allowed cases and deaths to climb rapidly.

Virus disturbances expose Netanyahu when he needs to appear strong

Since the end of May, the number of cases in a country of 9 million people has risen from about 17,000 to 145,000, while around 1,100 have died. Some epidemiologists have warned that the country’s hospitals are nearly affected.

Dealing with Netanyahu’s outbreak, high unemployment and prolonged corruption allegations against the prime minister have come together in a thunderstorm of discontent that has taken shape in massive weekly protests against him.

When Netanyahu reopened the economy 3 to 1/2 months ago, he warned that if the daily transition number crosses 100, the restrictions could return. Stopped the country and stopped the action.

Israel to implement lockdown in areas with most virus cases

Last week, Netanyahu tried to shut down select communities with the highest transition rates, but was forced to back down amid stiff opposition from ultra-Orthodox Jewish lawmakers. Large gatherings for life cycle milestones and for religious studies have promoted the spread of the virus, which is mainly concentrated in the ultra-orthodox and Arab regions of the country.

Many ultra-conservative lawmakers have threatened to pull out of Netanyahu’s brittle coalition if the government moves ahead with a lockdown during the holiday season, which begins September 18 and lasts for about three weeks.

(Updates with several ministers, opposition to planning in second paragraph, possible time in third.)