Israelis protest against second virus lockdown
Hundreds of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv late Thursday against a second nationwide lockdown, the first such move in the world to tackle a renewed spike in coronavirus cases.
The country is to re-enter lockdown at 2:00pm on Friday (1100 GMT), hours before Jewish New Year, known as Rosh Hashana, and extend for three weeks over other religious holidays including Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
The Jewish state has the world's second-highest detected virus infection rate after Bahrain, according to an AFP tally over the past fortnight.
Israel has registered more than 172,000 coronavirus cases with 1,163 deaths, out of a population of nine million.
"The economy is in free-fall, people are losing their jobs, they're depressed," said Yael, one of between 300 and 400 demonstrators in the coastal city of Tel Aviv.
"And all this for what? For nothing!" said the 60-year-old former employee of an architectural firm who lost her job in the crisis.
Israel had initially been widely praised for curbing the spread of the Covid-19 disease by imposing a stringent lockdown in March, but authorities have acknowledged that they were too quick to ease restrictions subsequently.
On the eve of the renewed lockdown, which was announced last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on nationwide television to try to explain the government had no choice.
"The health system has raised the red flag... We did everything we could to strike a balance between the (public) health needs and needs of the economy," the premier said on Thursday.
Under the new measures, residents will be limited to within 500 metres (yards) of their homes.
Exceptions to this rule include residents going out to buy medicine and food, as well as to attend a funeral or circumcision ceremony.
Israel's opposition chief Yair Lapid has condemned the measures.
"It's a very aggressive move. It's devastating for the economy and it's not helpful in terms of stopping the epidemic," he told AFP this week.
"The only reason the government is imposing a new lockdown is that it's completely lost... It's failed completely to contain the coronavirus."
Attendance at synagogues, which are usually full for services during Jewish holidays, has been limited depending on the size of each place of worship.
Authorities at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue have decided the building will remain closed over the New Year, for the first time in its history.