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Israel to begin second national lockdown as many debate how to avoid it

Protesters chanted slogans and held banners against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coronavirus countrywide lockdown in Tel Aviv on Thursday
Protesters chanted slogans and held banners against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coronavirus countrywide lockdown in Tel Aviv on Thursday Copyright Ariel Schalit/AP
Copyright Ariel Schalit/AP
By Michael Daventry
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Three-week lockdown begins on Friday afternoon, hours before the Jewish New Year begins

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On Friday night Israel becomes the first developed nation in the world to begin a second nationwide lockdown in an effort to curb rising cases of COVID-19.

The country now has one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world after confirming nearly 30,000 infections this week, breaking a record set only the week before.

But the three-week lockdown has been criticised because it coincides with the start of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, when religious and secular Israelis alike gather in homes and synagogues.

Groups of people protested in Tel Aviv on Thursday night to protest, led by doctors who claim it will not hamper the virus spread.

"The lockdown is inefficient and is disastrous," said Amir Shahar, a protest organiser who is also a  doctor at Sanz Medical Centre's emergency department in the city of Netanya.

"It does more harm than good."

But while thousands of police will be sent out to enforce the regulations, officials have voiced concern that many will violate the rules.

Some families held New Year gatherings a day early to circumvent them.

Others were angered by the decision not to impose a lockdown only in neighbourhoods with high outbreaks — mostly communities with Ultra Orthodox Jewish residents, where earlier government restrictions on social distancing were ignored.

The Israeli doctors' union chief Hagai Levine called it the "stupidest and most hazardous solution" to combat rising cases.

“The goal should be to change behavior, how people relate to the disease. And if you put a hammer to people’s heads this won’t change,” he told the Times of Israel.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted other countries would soon follow Israel into implementing a second national lockdown.

"In the last two days we have witnessed another alarming increase in morbidity and the continued increase in the number of critically ill patients," he said in a televised address on Thursday night.

Under the new rules, gatherings are limited to 10 people indoors, and 20 outside, while bars, restaurants and cultural venues will be closed.

AP
Benjamin Netanyahu made a televised address on Thursday nightAP

People will not be permitted to travel more than 500 metres away from their homes, except for shopping, emergency services or medical treatment. Essential workers will be allowed to travel to and from work.

Fines of between €123 and €1,231 will be levied on anyone breaking the rules.

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