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Israel Takes New Measures Against Virus as Cases Rise

Israel Takes New Measures Against Virus as Cases Rise

Wednesday, 25 March, 2020 - 09:45
People get their hair cut in a barbershop in Jerusalem as workers wear face masks as a protection against coronavirus March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Asharq Al-Awsat

The Israeli government on Wednesday approved new sweeping restrictions over the new coronavirus pandemic, including ordering the closing of all synagogues and lessened public transport.

Israel has confirmed more than 2,000 cases and five fatalities so far.

Places of worship largely had been kept open so long as gatherings have not had more than 10 people at a time who maintained a 2-meter (yard) distance from each other.

Many in Israel's insular ultra-Orthodox communities, however, have defied restrictions and gathered as usual for prayer and study, despite the pleas of rabbis and local authorities. That has led to tension with authorities and in at least one case, scuffles with police. Municipal workers also have been urging the ultra-Orthodox to go home, with little effect.

The order to close the synagogues, which goes into effect later Wednesday, reportedly came over the objection of Israel's health minister, himself an ultra-Orthodox Jew.

Furthermore, Israelis hoping for a stroll or jog were instructed to stay within 100 meters (110 yards) of their homes for a week under tightened restrictions to curb the coronavirus.

The new restrictions further reduced public transport, required employers to check workers for fever and set sanctions for people who defy rules.

Israelis have been instructed to stay home where possible, schools have been shut and many businesses have closed, prompting more than 500,000 layoffs so far.

The specter of people, out for fresh air, jogging and congregating on city streets has alarmed health authorities. The new 100- meter limit is meant to end such activity.

The private sector has had to limit employees at the workplace to 10 people or 30% of the company's workforce, and most of the public sector has been put on leave.

Public transportation, already operating on reduced schedules, was restricted further to journeys to and from "essential" businesses and taxis were limited to one passenger.

Israelis, though, could still drive themselves to work or to shops for essentials, and food delivery services were operating.

Penalties ranging from fines to a six-month jail term were set for anyone defying the orders.

Israel's central bank on Tuesday projected an economic contraction of 2.5% in 2020 as long as the partial lockdown eases by the end of April.

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