‘There is no choice’: Netanyahu, ministers agree to total lockdown until after holidays

Cabinet battle raged over banning public demonstrations and shutting down synagogues for Yom Kippur.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday evening that the government was on the verge of taking “difficult” decisions as Israel’s coronavirus infections skyrocketed out of control.

Israeli ministers have apparently agreed, according to reports, to impose a full lockdown starting on Friday. The new restrictions will be even more harshthan the first lockdown in April.

Health Ministry statistics showed the infection rate in Israel had hit a new record high with 7,000 Israelis testing positive for the coronavirus in the past day.

Record numbers of Israelis are sick with the virus. Of the 1,365 people hospitalized, 658 are in serious condition with 177 of them on respirators. Those numbers are almost double what they were only a month ago, and with infections continuing to increase, it is feared that many of the 57,131 Israelis currently diagnosed with the virus will also require hospitalization in the coming weeks.

Speculation was rife all day that the government would order a complete shutdown of the country in order to stem the spread of the disease. Two key steps that are arousing controversy are the proposal to ban all public demonstrations and close synagogues in advance of the Yom Kippur Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar when synagogues are traditionally packed with worshipers – raising fears of a massive surge in the already exploding infection rate.

“I’m in the middle of the Corona Cabinet discussions. The discussions are serious, complex. The situation is difficult, there is a steep rise [in infections],” Netanyahu said in a short video he tweeted during a break in the meeting.

“We have to make the decisions, the decisions are difficult. But I as Prime Minister am committed to protecting your lives. We need to understand that there is a danger to life here and therefore there is no choice – we will make the difficult decisions and save lives, with your cooperation,” Netanyahu said.

One health expert close to the cabinet discussions said the country was on the verge of being unable to stop the spread.

“We are dizzy. The virus is spreading in every community and in all sectors. It is spreading at a rate that is almost impossible to control,” Prof. Ran Blitzer, head of the expert committee advising the government, told Ynet.

The closure of synagogues got support from Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau, who for the first time expressed his agreement in principle to close the synagogues on Yom Kippur. Lau said that if “medical officials decide it is the right thing to do,” he will support the decision to ban prayer in enclosed spaces.

However, Lau reiterated that “the problem is that the public will not obey if the closure is not complete and in other places there will be a crowd that will not be enforced,” referring to the daily protests outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem that attract thousands of demonstrators who cannot maintain social distancing due to the sheer numbers in the area.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai called on the organizers of the nightly demonstrations to take a two-week break.

“I strongly oppose restricting demonstrations, it is an anti-democratic action,” Huldai told Ynet. “However, I suggest to the protesters to make a courageous decision and stop the demonstrations, so you will show solidarity and mostly turn the spotlight on the failure” of the government to get the pandemic under control.”

Although the infection rates are highest in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, religious leaders have demanded that if synagogues are shuttered, then the entire country must follow suit with no exceptions.