Police are planning to set up hundreds of checkpoints across the country and hand out steep fines to enforce the nationwide lockdown set to begin on Friday in a bid to stem the burgeoning spread of the coronavirus in Israel.
The lockdown approved by the cabinet on Sunday night — to begin Friday and last at least three weeks — comes as the country has seen infection rates spiral in the past few weeks, topping 4,000 new daily cases in recent days. Evening curfews had already been ordered in dozens of cities and areas last week.
The new rules will keep Israelis within 500 meters of their homes, except for basic needs like food and medicine or for traveling to “essential” jobs. They will also shutter schools, malls and hotels; curb gatherings; and ban in-person dining at restaurants. Restaurants will be allowed to do deliveries, but not to serve takeaway food, in a further decision announced Monday night. Israel’s soccer and basketball leagues will continue.
The Israel Police will deploy thousands of officers to hundreds of checkpoints across the country ahead of the Rosh Hashanah festival over the weekend, Channel 12 reported Monday evening.
People caught beyond 500 meters from their home without a legitimate reason will receive an automatic NIS 500 ($145) fine and will then be escorted in the direction of their homes, the report said. If caught again, they will receive a number of different higher fines.
The lockdown, bitterly opposed by many sectors of the workforce, and castigated by the opposition as proof of government failure, will take effect at 2 p.m. on Friday, hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah.
It is scheduled to end with the Simchat Torah holiday, on October 9.
On Monday, the Transportation Ministry said that over the three-week lockdown, public transportation will be cut to 50 percent of regular service, with buses and trains running from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and with no intercity service on Fridays or Saturday.
But while various sectors have been preparing for the new restrictions, coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu reportedly plans to try and soften some before they are introduced Friday.
According to Channel 12, Gamzu is not convinced of the need for the 500-meter limit on movement, and will ask ministers to revoke it in favor of law enforcement concentrating on preventing inter-city travel.
He will also not recommend that the government extend the lockdown beyond the first two weeks, the report said.
Gamzu came into his role as an anti-lockdown evangelist, vowing to do away with “illogical” restrictions and rebuild public trust.
Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said Monday morning the government could ease the nationwide lockdown when daily coronavirus infections drop to 1,000 a day, but admitted that final criteria have yet to be set.
Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, Levy said the country will be released from the lockdown when there is a noticeable drop in morbidity rates.
“We would like to get to 500 cases a day, but it is clear that at this time that won’t happen,” Levy said.
“If we see a drop to 1,000 patients, and proper behavior [from the public], and a downward trend in morbidity, and at the same time stabilization in the hospital system, that will be a positive sign to consider coming out of the lockdown. We will put together criteria in the coming days,” he said.
According to Health Ministry figures published Monday evening, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen to 159,290, nearly 3,700 more cases than Sunday night.
The ministry said nearly 3,000 of the cases came between midnight and 7:30 p.m.
The ministry also announced that the death toll from the virus was up to 1,136, recording 10 more victims since Monday morning and approximately 17 since an update late Sunday.
Five hundred and twenty-four patients were in serious condition, including 142 people on ventilators.