Netanyahu announces 4-day national lockdown to fight pandemic

Prime minister tells nation travel ban, home-confinement aimed at preventing spread of virus over Passover holiday when millions of Israelis would normally visit relatives.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

A somber Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Monday the government was imposing a total nation-wide lockdown as the country prepared to mark the Passover holiday, known as the “time of our freedom.”

Intercity travel will be banned from Tuesday through Friday and citizens will be totally confined to their homes Wednesday evening as Jews hold the traditional Seder meal and recite the story of the Jewish people’s biblical exodus from slavery in Egypt. Police had earlier said they would deploy in force to impose heavy fines and send violators back home.

“The virus is running wild, [it’s] rampant in New York, and we see hundreds of dead every day in Europe. The situation is much better here and there is a trend to improvement,” he added.

The prime minister spoke only minutes after the latest health ministry statistics showed 8,904 Israelis were confirmed to be infected and four more patients died during the day bringing the death toll to 57. Netanyahu said if the infection rate started to slow over the week-long holiday the government may start to reduce some of the restrictions after Passover.

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“There are positive signs on the horizon, but we cannot be complacent,” he said, adding that it lifting restrictions in the future will depend on everyone staying at home to stop the spread of the virus.

Netanyahu added that if all goes well “we can start opening up the economy after Passover.”

Netanyahu spoke from his official residence in Jerusalem where he is in quarantine after Health Minister Yaakov Litzman tested positive last week for the virus. Assuming he continues to test negative for the virus, Netanyahu will come out of isolation on Wednesday in time to sit at the Seder table with his wife and two sons.

The lockdown will occur in two stages with a travel ban between cities and towns going into place Tuesday at 4 P.M. that will remain in force until Friday morning. With stores set to close Wednesday afternoon and stay closed until Friday, the curfew will ban all traffic and limit Israelis to stay within 100 meters of their homes.

The second stage will be a mandatory total curfew in order to prevent Israel’s Jewish population from visiting family for the traditional Passover evening Seder meal that takes place Wednesday evening. The home-confinement will start Wednesday at 6 PM and will remain in effect until Thursday morning.

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The Passover holiday traditionally sees millions of Israelis take to the roads to join with extended family in order to celebrate the Seder meal that launches the week-long holiday. Highways that would normally be jammed for hours Wednesday afternoon and evening will be empty, with police sent to enforce the curfew,hand out heavy fines and send home those attempting to travel.

Addressing the issue of ongoing coalition talks for a government of national unity, Netanyahu said despite the current stalemate with the Blue and White Party opposition leader Benny Gantz, he still thinks it will be possible to reach an agreement.

“I am convinced that we can reach a unity government. The path is not yet blocked. There are obstacles, but I believe that with good will … we can get there soon, and we must,” he said. “Unity is needed not just at the political level, but also within Israeli society.”