Israel has introduced new rules on social distancing as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the country was experiencing a “very strong” second wave of Covid-19.
Mr Netanyahu, speaking at the government’s weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, said Israelis ought to expect an “increase and a doubling of the number of severe cases" of Covid-19 and said that Israel was "a step away from full lockdown".
“The World Health Organization has marked the Middle East as a focus of the global spread. This is not passing over Israel. It is here,” said Mr Netanyahu, as he called on the Knesset and decision-making bodies to take decisions with urgency.
“We are in an emergency situation,” he said, adding that: “If we do not block the spread of coronavirus, we will have neither health nor and economy; many citizens in the state of Israel will lose their lives.”
The Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee on Sunday approved new rules including banning gatherings of over 50 people in houses of worship and bars.
Gyms, nightclubs, and event halls will also be closed, and the number of passengers on public transport will be limited under the new regulations.
Rules limiting gatherings to 20 people in “other closed spaces”, such as private homes, have also been introduced.
On Sunday, four more Israelis died of Covid-19, bringing Israel’s total death toll from the virus to 330.
Israeli Healthy Ministry data underscored the pandemic’s acceleration in Israel over the past few days, as it reported a 13 per cent rise in coronavirus hospitalisations on Sunday.
The Ministry reported that there were 196 new cases recorded within the 24 hours to Sunday night, and that the country had over 11,000 active cases.
Deputy Health Ministry Yoav Kish told the cabinet meeting that the number of active cases during Israel’s initial Covid-19 wave had crested at around 10,000 and described the current situation as “more severe and dangerous than the first”.
Mr Kish added that the number of tests returning positive had increased from 0.5 per cent in mid-May, to 5 per cent today, and that the number had been steadily increasing.
The latest numbers come as Israel was left off an EU list of 14 countries with which member states would be able to reopen travel, an blow as Israel had agreed to renew tourism with Cyprus and Greece from mid-August.
Tourism Minister Asaf Zair said on Sunday that an August-reopening of the tourism sector now appeared “off the table”.
Israel’s renewed coronavirus outbreak has been matched in the Palestinian Authority, which ordered a general five-day lockdown on Friday – asking residents to not leave their homes unless to purchase food or medicine.
The West Bank reported more than 1,700 in Hebron over the past two weeks, and hundreds more in Bethlehem and Nablus.