Netanyahu mulls 3-week lockdown to contain pandemic

Armed soldiers may patrol streets with police, with those 65 and older forced to stay at home as the most at-risk population.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The government is meeting Sunday evening by teleconference to decide on further restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

“I want us to start a three-week closure from Monday until [after] Passover,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday when ordering the various ministries to present their plans within 48 hours for dealing with such a lockdown.

The Jewish holiday commemorating the Exodus from Egypt starts the night of April 8th and runs for a week.

According to Israel Hayom, representatives of the Health Ministry had some good news for the cabinet, in that there has been a slowdown in the rate of contagion in the country. The idea of restricting the public even further is to ensure that the numbers go down still more.

“You have to remember that the numbers we see now are a result of the steps that were taken a week or two ago, or even earlier,” said a senior official. “They were very difficult steps to take with an enormous economic and social cost, but they’ve proven themselves and the prime minister doesn’t regret them. Now we are in the situation that if we relax [restrictions] it will be a mistake that cannot be corrected.”

A number of suggestions have already been publicized from the Friday meeting. These include decreasing the number of people allowed to travel to work from 30 percent to some 20 percent, ordering a two- to three-hour window exclusively for elderly shoppers to buy food, and forcing all those age 65 and over into lockdown as this is the most at-risk population.

All those who have died in the country so far have been elderly people with pre-existing health conditions.

The cabinet members agreed to add 1,000 inspectors to help police check that people are keeping proper distance from each other in supermarkets and pharmacies, or are within the acceptable range of distance from their homes.

Permission has also been granted for hundreds of armed soldiers to join police in patrolling the streets. They may possibly be used mainly in contagion hotspots such as ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, the Arab sector and areas where foreigners are concentrated, such as south Tel Aviv.

Such areas, a senior source told Ynet, may be shut down completely so that it would be easier for the authorities to enforce the health guidelines and to bring home the seriousness of the situation.

“We want to scare [them],” he said simply.

Over the weekend, 1,296 people were caught by the authorities for flouting the health guidelines, the vast majority for being in public for reasons that are currently unlawful. Fifty-eight businesses were also forced to close for violating current restrictions.

Netanyahu said that he would review the lockdown week by week. “I’ll have an escape hatch,” he said. “If the situation improves, I’ll be able to release the economy a little bit.”