Israel to set new nationwide lockdown as virus cases surge

Benjamin Netanyahu has faced increasing criticism over his handling of the coronavirus crisis

Benjamin Netanyahu has faced increasing criticism over his handling of the coronavirus crisis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the government decision in a televised statement, saying the cabinet had agreed "a strict (lockdown) plan for three weeks, with an option that it will be extended".

Per capita, Israel is dealing with one of the worst outbreaks and total daily new infections in the world, raising concerns over hospital capacity ahead of the flu season.

Mr Netanyahu said: "Our goal is to stop the increase [in cases] and lower morbidity". He also said, "My heart is with the thousands of Jewish who come to the worship house once a year, and this time it will not happen because of the lockdown".

That prompted Israeli Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who represents ultra-Orthodox Jews, to resign from the government earlier Sunday.

The anti-coronavirus measures will restrict gatherings to no more than 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors.

According to Health Ministry data, as of Monday afternoon, there were 156,823 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, among those 40,561 active; 529 patients were in serious condition and 214 in moderate condition; 135 on ventilators; and a national death toll of 1,126. Netanyahu announced a new countrywide lockdown will be imposed amid a stubborn surge in coronavirus cases, with schools and parts of the economy expected to shut down in a bid to bring down infection rates.

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While initially earning praise for the quick response to close the country's borders, Netanyahu has since been blamed for opening businesses and schools too quickly and allowing the virus to spread unchecked.

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets again on Sunday to call for his resignation over alleged graft and failure to manage the Covid-19 crisis.

But as cases have risen, protests have broken out against Mr Netanyahu and the government's handling of the pandemic. Schools would be closed, but at least some public-sector businesses would remain open, he said, subject to unspecified restrictions.

They blocked roads to Ben Gurion airport, from where Mr Netanyahu flew to the United States to attend the signing of agreements normalising ties with Bahrain and the UAE.

But as the economy reopened, daily infections jumped, passing 4,000 last week.

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