Israel toughened its coronavirus measures on Thursday as a second nationwide lockdown now nearing its second week failed to bring down the world ’s highest infection rate .
The new rules will close the vast majority of workplaces, shutter markets, and further limit prayers and demonstrations.
“ Over the past two days , we ’ve heard from experts that if we don ’t take immediate and harsh measures , we ’ll reach an abyss,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Wednesday , at the start of a cabinet meeting to thrash out the new measures.
The government ’ s latest move comes as the country is poised to enter the second week of a three -week lockdown imposed last Friday , which included the closure of schools and restrictions on work and leisure.
Under the new measures set to be approved in parliament later Thursday , synagogues will only be allowed to open on Yom Kippur , a Jewish holiday which begins Sunday afternoon.
At other times, only outdoor prayer will be allowed with a maximum of 20 people attending . The same restrictions have been applied to demonstrations.
“ To save the lives of Israel’ s citizens we need to impose a full lockdown now for two weeks, ” Netanyahu said.
“ This is also necessary for the economy. Whoever thinks we can work with a raging pandemic, with death and infections rising, without it affecting the economy, is wrong.”
A decision on whether to close Ben Gurion international airport outside Tel Aviv will be made later on Thursday , the government said.
Israel has the world ’s highest coronavirus infection rate as a proportion of its population , according to an AFP tally of the past fortnight.
More than 200 , 000 coronavirus cases have been recorded , with 1 ,335 deaths , out of a population of nine million .
Netanyahu has faced fierce criticism from opposition politicians , who accuse him of tightening the rules to put an end to weeks of protest outside his Jerusalem residence.
Ayelet Shaked, a lawmaker with the far- right Yamina party, said the new rules are “ destructive and unreasonable”.
“ Because of the demonstrations , they ’ re pushing hundreds of thousands of people to unemployment and crushing the economy,” she said in a statement.
Shaked said she will push to change the measures when they come before a parliamentary committee for approval later on Thursday.
Israel’ s health ministry registered 6 ,808 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, out of 54,364 tests processed.
Some hospitals have reached capacity and are having to turn people away , with some patients forced to wait for hours in ambulances , according to the emergency medical service Magen David Adom.