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Israel to go on full lockdown




Yesterday I couldn’t take it anymore. Israeli apartments are small, and there’s only so much time one can spend at home. I went to buy groceries – the only legitimate excuse for leaving one’s abode.

I drove past the beach. Several families have moved into caravans, and were sitting drinking and enjoying themselves on the seafront. There was a small number of people running on the beach. Not for much longer.

From Wednesday night, that will be forbidden. We’ve been told the “ocean is banned” and beaches are to be cordoned off. Transgressors will be fined more than $1 000 (R17 500) and/or six months in prison. We won’t be allowed more than 100 metres from our houses – just enough to take the dog for a walk.

I drove past the large Yarkon Park. Usually bustling, it was empty aside for a police van breaking up a group who had been sitting on the grass. You can’t venture out in more than a pair. There are pockets of people defying the orders, and police vehicles roam the streets.

I drove past outdoor playgrounds with police tape around them to stop children from entering. A few people were walking their dogs, and a young man was using a stop sign to balance against as he did press-ups. It was quiet. There are cars on the road, but nowhere as many as usual. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Tel Aviv’s traffic jams.

I drove past my favourite book shop. Until now, street shops of all kinds, including fashion, toys, and furniture, have been allowed to be open as long as operators keep to the anti-crowding laws that mandate no more than four customers for every working till and a two-metre gap between each person. From tonight, they will be forced to close.

When I arrived at the supermarket, there was a long queue outside. A limited number of people can enter at any one time, and people were waiting patiently. I gave up and returned home. The government has promised that for now, food shops will remain open, so there’s no panic buying. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m debating how to celebrate it – in the living room, balcony, or kitchen.

As of Wednesday morning, nearly 2 000 Israelis have tested positive for coronavirus with the vast majority of cases mild. To date, four patients have died, and 28 are in a serious condition. More than 75 000 Israelis are in home quarantine. The Israel Defense Forces says soldiers will assist the police. Already eight battalions – more than 2 000 – have been earmarked, with the potential for more.

Most worrying is the increasing unemployment figures. More and more businesses are collapsing under the tightening restrictions. There are now more than 600 000 newly unemployed people – about 19% of the population. That figure is expected to reach one million by Passover early next month. Most have been placed on unpaid leave.

According to the health ministry, almost a quarter of Israelis who contracted the coronavirus did so at synagogue. Until now, synagogues have been allowed to remain open although gatherings of more than 10 have been prohibited. Many religious leaders have asked congregants to pray at home, though some, especially in the ultra-Orthodox community, have continued to congregate in quorums of at least 10 men.

The Israeli Supreme Court has sanctioned a new app unveiled this week by the health ministry. It follows a person’s location and compares it with the information the ministry has regarding the location histories of confirmed coronavirus cases during the 14 days before their diagnosis. The idea is that if your path crossed with someone who has the virus, you’ll be notified and ordered into a two-week quarantine. Talking to Israelis, most support the app, but it does raise questions of privacy. The ministry has promised users that the information is secure and won’t be used for other purposes.

Like elsewhere, the most susceptible are the elderly and people with chronic health conditions. Already last week they were advised not to leave their houses at all. All nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the country are on lockdown, and a few volunteer initiatives have been set up. People are encouraged to phone old people who live alone to check on them daily. Also, volunteers have been transporting food to people in isolation. It’s not clear how much longer this will be allowed.

If there’s one thing that’s flourishing, it’s humour and online communication. My favourite at the moment is, “Today’s drink special. The Quarantini. It’s just a regular martini, but you drink it alone in your house.” If there’s one good thing to come from all of this, it’s that we’re in it together. I just hope I won’t lose my sense of humour in the process.

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