Thousands of Israelis flooded malls, shopping centers and open markets across the country on Friday, seeking to make what could be their final physical purchases before the country enters a third nationwide lockdown on Sunday evening.
The scenes highlighted one of the complex challenges of instituting a national closure, with citizens gathering in large numbers with limited social distancing for last breaths of normalcy before being shuttered in their homes for what is slated to be at least two weeks.
Exceptionally long lines were reported at IKEA in Rishon Lezion, with one customer telling the Ynet news site that the store felt like the check-in line at Ben Gurion Airport during peak travel season. Many customers left the line, giving up after waiting so long.
At Tel Aviv’s open-air Carmel Market, which will also be forced to shut down on Sunday, similar scenes were reported with frustrated customers seeking to buy their Friday groceries for the last time for at least two weeks.
Shula, 76, lamented the market’s impending closure, saying she lives close by and it’s safer than taking a bus and going to an indoor supermarket that is allowed to remain open.
Couple Adiel and Amit told the news site that they were buying groceries to host a large dinner for friends who they won’t be able to see during the lockdown. “It’ll be like a farewell feast,” they joked, adding that they hoped to still see their peers during the lockdown so long as it is not enforced too strictly.
Thousands were also seen packed at Jerusalem’s open-air Mahane Yehuda market, which even featured tour groups, giving the spot a sense of normalcy. Store owner Gabi Hasin told Ynet that while he understands the purpose of such lockdowns, the fact that Israelis then rush shopping centers both before and after somewhat defeats that purpose.
In Tel Aviv, Channel 12 aired footage from an open-air party at Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv on Friday afternoon where hundreds of mainly maskless people were seen dancing in close proximity to each other against existing social-distancing orders.
Ministers on Friday approved the regulations of Israel’s third national lockdown, beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday, as the Bank of Israel issued an assessment that the closure would cost the nation’s economy NIS 2.5 billion ($776 million) for every week it lasts.
The lockdown is set to be at least two weeks long and may extend to four, so the final cost could be NIS 5-10 billion ($1.5-$3 billion).
During Israel’s third national lockdown aimed at curbing the resurgence of COVID-19, rules will bar Israelis from entering another person’s home; restrict movement to 1 kilometer from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce, leisure and entertainment (except for essentials); limit public transportation to 50% capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity.
Fines for those breaking rules stand at NIS 500 ($155).
Kindergartens and school grades 1-4 and 11-12 will study as usual during the lockdown, while grades 5-10 will study remotely.
Israel’s two previous lockdowns, in April and September, succeeded in bringing down infection numbers, but morbidity ballooned again as the closures were rolled back.
Despite the setbacks, health officials have expressed optimism that the latest closure will be the nation’s last as it steps up its vaccination drive.
The ministry announced Friday that over 74,000 people had been vaccinated against the virus Thursday, taking the total number of people to receive the first dose of the vaccine to 210,000.