Israel toughens second lockdown as virus cases surge

Israel's Netanyahu calls for tough lockdown as virus rages

Israel toughens second lockdown as virus cases surge

In Israel, the prime minister's office said in a statement that Netanyahu and the crown prince had "a very friendly discussion".

In a separate address, Netanyahu's former rival and now governing partner, Benny Gantz, called for national unity.

Israel entered its second lockdown on September 18, but cases continued to rise reaching a daily level of nearly 7,000 new infections.

The measures are set to go into force on Friday afternoon, as the country shuts down for the weekly Sabbath ahead of the solemn holy day of Yom Kippur on Sunday and Monday. The High Holiday season is usually a joyous time characterized by mild fall weather and gatherings with friends and extended families.

Although Saudi Arabia has not indicated that it plans to normalise relations with Israel, it has said it would allow the passage of Israeli flights through its airspace to and from the UAE following a request from the country.

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The current second wave of infections followed an easing in May of a lockdown imposed in March. But over the past week, the number of daily new cases has reached almost 7,000 among a population of 9 million, severely straining the resources of some hospitals.

"We reached a decision to pull the handbrake", Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said on Israel Radio about the cabinet decision, without giving precise details of the restrictions.

Israel won widespread praise for moving quickly to contain the coronavirus outbreak early this year, sealing its borders and imposing a strict lockdown.

He has denied charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a trial that resumes in January, and rejected allegations from protest activists that a tougher lockdown was essentially aimed at quashing the demonstrations against him. But the economy was reopened too quickly and the virus quickly returned.

In recent months, a national unity government that was formed to address the pandemic has been mired in infighting, with authorities issuing unclear and sometimes contradictory guidelines, leading much of the public to disregard the risk.

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Since the outbreak began, 1,316 people have died in Israel and some 200,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported. The first lockdown sent unemployment skyrocketing to double-digit levels, and experts warn the new lockdown will cause great damage to the struggling economy.

Israel has the world's highest coronavirus infection rate per capita, according to an AFP tally from the past fortnight.

The government last week imposed a nationwide lockdown that closed schools, shopping centres, hotels and restaurants.

Prayers and protests will be limited to no more than 20 people and must be held outside, while those attending may not travel further than one kilometer (0.6 miles) from their homes.

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