Israel announces partial national lockdown after coronavirus surge

JERUSALEM, Sept 3- Israel will impose a partial national lockdown next week to battle a coronavirus infection surge, the head of its pandemic task force said on Thursday, shouting his exasperation in an emotional television address. The health official, Ronni Gamzu, said Israel was facing a “pivotal moment” in trying to contain the spread of COVID-19, with some…

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM, Sept 3 (Reuters) – Israel will impose a partialnational lockdown next week to battle a coronavirus infectionsurge, the head of its pandemic task force said on Thursday,shouting his exasperation in an emotional television address.

The health official, Ronni Gamzu, said Israel was facing a”pivotal moment” in trying to contain the spread of COVID-19,with some 3,000 new cases now reported daily in a population ofnine million.

He put much of the blame on what he called apathy among theArab minority to social distancing rules and high infectionrates in close-knit ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities.

Other health experts have said political in-fighting amongmembers of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalitiongovernment has led to a slow response to a second wave of casesafter a national lockdown flattened the infection curve in May.

“Please, no weddings now, no mass gatherings … anywhere,”Gamzu, his voice rising to a shout, implored on TV. “There arecities in Israel that will be put under curfew and closure inthe coming week and face economic, social and personalhardship.”

He spoke after Netanyahu’s “coronavirus cabinet” approved onThursday a lockdown of so-called “red towns” with high infectionrates. About 30 communities, mainly with Arab or ultra-Orthodoxpopulations, have already been put in that category.

In the Arab town of Nazareth – identified by healthauthorities as “red” – residents have bypassed restrictions byhaving wedding parties and receptions at home, packing hundredsof people into driveways or gardens for events usually held innow-closed event halls.

Nazareth’s municipality said after Gamzu spoke that it wasbeing unfairly targeted.

Gamzu said infection rates were also high in Jewishseminaries in ultra-Orthodox areas, and he appealed to religiousleaders to ensure social distancing rules were followed.Israel’s school year began on Sept 1, with in-class teaching.

There have been 122,799 confirmed coronavirus cases inIsrael and 976 deaths.(Additional reporting by Rami AyyubEditing by Alexandra Hudson)

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