Israel is preparing to return to confinement today to try to contain an outbreak of covid-19 that has worsened for months, at a time when the government has been plagued by indecision and internal strife.
The three-week confinement starts at 14:00 pm local time (12:00 pm in Lisbon) and will include the closure of many commercial establishments, strict limits for public meetings and will largely confine people to an area up to one kilometer from their homes.
The lockdown in Israel coincides with the great Jewish holidays, when people usually visit their families and gather during prayers.
In a speech on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that even stricter measures may be needed to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded. There are currently more than 46.000 active cases in Israel, with at least 577 people hospitalized in critical conditions in intensive care units.
"It may be that we have no choice but to tighten up the measures," said Netanyahu, adding: "I will not impose a blockade on the citizens of Israel without reason, but I will not hesitate to add further restrictions if necessary."
Israel has reported a total of more than 175 cases since the outbreak began, including at least 1.169 deaths. Currently, it reports about XNUMX new cases per day, one of the highest rates of infection per capita in the world.
Israel was one of the first countries to impose more comprehensive blockades in the spring, closing the borders and forcing the closure of many companies, measures that managed to lower the number of new cases to just a few dozen a day in May.
But the economy abruptly reopened and a new government was installed, but it was paralyzed by internal struggles. In recent months, the authorities have announced several restrictions just to see them ignored or reversed, even with the new cases reaching record levels.
The West Bank followed a similar trajectory, with a spring confinement that largely contained the pandemic, followed by an increase in cases that forced the Palestinian Authority to impose a total 10-day confinement in July. The Palestinian Authority has reported more than 30.000 cases in the West Bank and about 240 deaths.
The Gaza Strip, which has been blocked by Egypt and Israel since the Islamic group Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, was initially isolated from the pandemic.
However, authorities detected the spread of the virus in the community last month and there are now more than 1.700 active cases in this impoverished territory of two million people, overwhelming the already fragile health system. At least 16 people died.
In Israel, the Government faces harsh criticism of its response to the virus and the economic crisis triggered by the spring blockade. Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has been the target of weekly protests at the official residence. Israel's ultra-orthodox island community, which has a high infection rate, has revolted against restrictions, especially those aimed at religious gatherings.
In Tel Aviv, hundreds of people protested the new confinement on Thursday, including doctors and scientists who find it ineffective.
Amir Shahar, head of an emergency department in the city of Netanya and one of the organizers of the demonstration, said the blockade was "disastrous" and would do "more harm than good".