Coronavirus infections still high as Israel marks Sukkot under lockdown

Israel to begin week-long Sukkot festival with restrictions keeping people close to home, no guests allowed.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s coronavirus infection rate remained high Friday as the country prepares to mark the opening of the Sukkot holiday under a nationwide lockdown.

The Health Ministry reported 7,639 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past day, with the number of active cases surging to 70,941.

Of the 1,563 people hospitalized with corona, 849 are listed in serious condition, among them 201 connected to ventilators to help them breathe. Just over 5,000 people who are sick but with mild or no symptoms are being housed in hotels used as coronavirus quarantine centers, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis are in home isolation after being exposed to somebody sick with the virus.

The numbers continue to rise despite the lockdown that went into effect last week, shutting down non-essential businesses and schools and forbidding Israelis from venturing more than one kilometer from their residences.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the closures might last half a year or more. Officials fear that growing numbers of serious ill patients could succumb to the disease in the coming months. Israel’s death toll currently stands at 1,629, with more than a third having occurred in September alone.

Health restrictions have also been placed on Israelis as they mark the week-long Sukkot holiday that begins at sundown on Friday. In an effort to drive down the infection rate there is a ban on hosting guests, with violators facing fines if caught.

During Sukkot many Jews follow the biblical precept to live in a temporary dwelling, or sukkah, to be reminded of the ancient Israelites wandering in the wilderness with no permanent home.

Despite health orders fighting the pandemic by barring the custom of hosting guests in the sukkah, several massive sukkahs have been erected in Jerusalem and other locations by some ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects who plan to hold large festivities that could draw 1,000 or more at a time.

Police warned community leaders that they would take action to shut them down, and organizers face fines if caught.

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin met with a leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi Thursday evening in a bid to spread the message that even during the holiday, Israelis should maintain health regulations that would save lives.