JERUSALEM — Israel is heading back into a nationwide lockdown for at least three weeks starting Friday, the eve of the Jewish New Year holiday, in the clearest sign yet of the government’s failure to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The announcement Sunday came barely four months after Israel emerged from its last lockdown — too hastily, many critics said — and as its per capita infection rate rose to among the highest in the world. More than 1,100 people in the country have died from the virus.
The public sector and some private businesses will continue to work under tight limitations, and citizens will only be allowed to move within 500 yards of their homes. Schools, which reopened for the new school year on Sept. 1, will also close Friday for the duration of the lockdown.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the drastic and unpopular measures in a televised address Sunday, shortly before he boarded a flight to Washington, D.C., for a ceremony at the White House ushering in formal Israeli diplomatic and business ties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
After initially winning international praise for taking swift action to contain the first wave of the virus, the government’s bungled response to the second wave appeared all the more stunning. Israel is one of the first countries to have to impose a second, nationwide lockdown.
Netanyahu tried to put a positive spin on the turnabout and said many countries were experiencing a similar “accordion” effect, easing and tightening restrictions according to the changing rate of infection.
“We were among the first in the world to understand the scope of the danger,” Netanyahu said. “We closed the skies and implemented lockdown.”
“Because we were among the first to close the economy, we could be among the first to reopen it,” he added. “Because we were among the first to reopen the economy, our economy is in a better situation than most economies around the world.”
But Israel’s health officials had “raised a red flag,” he said, warning of a jump in the number of serious cases and deaths, of hospital teams becoming worn out and of the double danger of the virus and influenza that winter would bring.