Following a contentious meeting between ministers and health officials Sunday afternoon, the Israeli government has decided to impose a second lockdown on the country but with less strident conditions as previously proposed. Under the new directives announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Jerusalem, which is set to take place on September 18 and last for three weeks or until October 9, essential workers will continue to work as usual while limits will be placed on non-essential employees.
Private sector workers, Netanyahu said, can continue operating their businesses given that they do not interact with customers. Schools will also be closed during this period. Netanyahu also said special arrangements will be made for the observant public that ensures safety standards that will be made public at a later time. Gatherings will be restricted to 10 indoors, 20 indoors, with Netanyahu emphasizing: “This may be the most important thing.” Netanyahu also said that restrictions on movement will also be imposed, limiting individuals to only 500 meters away from their homes. “I know these steps are a heavy price for us all,” he says. “These are not the holiday we are used to.
We certainly won’t be able to celebrate with our extended families.” Finance Ministry officials balked at the idea earlier in the day, saying it would it further harm Israel’s already fragile economy and leave thousands to go out of business, an argument that is being backed by the Bank of Israel which fears that a new lockdown could cost the country billions of dollars. Netanyahu, however, promised that financial aid programs will be put in place to help struggling businesses stay afloat during the lockdown period. According to Israeli media outlets, before Sunday’s vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to relax his stance towards the lockdown measures, apparently persuaded by the Finance Ministry’s argument.
The premier said the government agreed to the conditions after Israel’s top health officials assessed that any deepening of the coronavirus crisis might lead to the health system collapsing. “On Thursday, they raised a red flag,” Netanyahu said, referring to hospital officials. For his part, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has been a vocal advocate for a complete lockdown of the country, saying that it is the only way to ensure that the country can curb the spread of the disease and prevent a relapse of escalating numbers in the future. “There is no choice but to impose a lockdown… This is a difficult day for the country. But there is no other choice but this proposal,” Edelstein said on Sunday.
“Therefore I would like to be clear — with the exception of various cosmetic changes, I will not permit negotiations over the plan,” Edelstein maintained. “I am saying this clearly at the start of the discussion: if the plan is not accepted, I will pull it and I won’t bring forth an alternative plan. The coronavirus is not a political issue and not a matter of populism. It’s a matter of life and death,” he added.