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Israel Orders Nationwide Lockdown

Ultra-Orthodox Jews keep social distancing and wear face masks during a morning prayer next to their houses as synagogues are limited to twenty people following the government's measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Bnei Brak, Israel.
Israel Orders Nationwide Lockdown
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Israel has ordered a nationwide lockdown to deal with an increase in coronavirus cases. The new rules are to take effect Friday at the start of the Jewish High Holiday season.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the move on Sunday.

Schools, restaurants, market areas and hotels will close as part of the lockdown. Israelis will also face restrictions on movement and gatherings.

"I know that these steps come at a difficult price for all of us,” Netanyahu told the nation. “This is not the holiday we are used to."

The new lockdown will remain in place for at least three weeks.

Israel already had a lengthy lockdown in the spring. The move brought down infection numbers but also hurt the country's economy, with many people losing jobs.

Israelis usually hold large family gatherings and fill religious centers during the important holy day of Yom Kippur later this month. Officials feared that could fuel a rise in infections.

A consideration in Israeli discussions about the lockdown was what prayers would look like during the Jewish holidays. The details on prayer during the lockdown were not clear in the government decision. That led Israeli Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who represents the Orthodox Jews, to resign from the government.

Israel has had more than 150,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and more than 1,100 deaths. With a population of 9 million, the country now has one of the world's worst outbreaks of the virus. More than 4,000 new cases are reported every day.

Israel earned praise for its early efforts in stopping the coronavirus. The country moved quickly to close its borders and appeared to bring infections under control. It has since been criticized for opening businesses and schools too quickly, permitting the virus to spread.

Much of the criticism has been aimed at Netanyahu. Thousands of protesters gather outside his Jerusalem home every week. The prime minister has appeared preoccupied by politics and personal issues, including his trial on corruption charges.

Netanyahu has also been criticized for seeming to surrender to pressure from interest groups, including most recently his Orthodox governing partners. They seemed to have persuaded him to ease a city-based lockdown plan that would have mostly affected ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities.

On Sunday, Netanyahu defended his earlier actions. He said Israel's economy had come out of the first lockdown in a better state than many other developed nations. And he said the country had had fewer coronavirus deaths than other countries with similar outbreaks.

The government, led by two opposing parties who joined forces reportedly to fight the virus, also has been denounced for the new outbreak. Critics say it has failed to deal with both the health and economic crises, leading Israel to its second lockdown.

But some government ministers are blaming the public for the spread. They accuse Israelis of violating rules on public gatherings and wearing face masks.

I’m Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

lockdownn. a temporary condition ordered by a government (as during the outbreak of an epidemic disease) in which people are required to stay in their homes and refrain from or limit activities outside the home involving public contact

prayers n. a religious service in which words are spoken to a god, or gods, especially in order to give thanks or to ask for something​

maskn. a covering used over the mouth and nose to protect against disease spread