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Israel eases some blocking measures as virus cases fall

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Israel imposed a second nationwide blockade on September 18 as the country was seeing numerous issues, closing schools, restaurants and hotels, among other businesses, and at the time it had one of the worst explosions in the world, measured for its population of 9 million people. The shutdown pushed infections from 9,000 new virus cases a day to about 2,000 new infections.

The worst outbreaks have been in areas populated by ultra-Orthodox Jews, who tend to live in crowded communities and have large families, environments that can promote infection. But segments of the ultra-Orthodox community have also broken the blockade rules, packing synagogues and holding mass rallies during the High Jewish Holidays, deepening a long rift with the secular population of countries that viewed the behavior as reckless and a risk to public health.

Going forward, the government is expected to pursue targeted blockades in certain areas, mainly in ultra-Orthodox communities. But constituent political leaders, key partners in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, are likely to push the measures.

The lifting of Thursday’s restrictions is the first step in what is expected to be taken, the weekly easing of the strict blockade, a stark contrast to Israel’s rapid reopening undertaken after its first blockade in the spring.

We need to get out (of the blockage) in a gradual and responsible way. Carefully. Otherwise we will find ourselves within a short time in a third deadlock, Netanyahu said in a speech to parliament after the vote. He warned that easing further restrictions would depend on the number of new virus cases that continue to fall.

Israel was praised in the spring for taking decisive action to stem its first wave, even though its economy had been hit hard by the stalemate and unemployment soared. But after a hasty reopening and what has been criticized as mismanagement of the crisis by the government, its outbreak rose to new heights.

Netanyahu’s popularity has plummeted due to his handling of the crisis, and massive protests against his rule have been going on for weeks, with demonstrators demanding his resignation.

Israel has recorded more than 253,000 infections since the beginning of the pandemic, with more than 2,100 deaths.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, transmitted, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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