Israel will reinstate a strict new countrywide lockdown this week amid a stubborn surge in coronavirus cases.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the announcement in a televised speech Sunday.
Beginning Friday, the eve of the Jewish New Year, schools, restaurants, malls and hotels among other businesses will shut down and restrictions on movement will be imposed. The lockdown is expected to last at least three weeks, when measures may be eased depending on morbidity.
Israel has seen a spike in cases over recent weeks that more tempered measures failed to bring down. It now has one of the world's worst outbreaks, adjusted for population.
Israel earned praise earlier this year for its initial handling of the coronavirus domestically, moving quickly to seal the country's borders and appearing to bring the outbreak under control. It has since been criticised for opening businesses and schools too quickly and allowing the virus to spread once again.
Earlier Sunday, a prominent Israeli minister who heads an influential ultra-Orthodox faction in the coalition government resigned in protest over the proposed lockdown. He expressed particular ire toward restrictions that will limit observant Jews from attending communal prayers at synagogues during the upcoming holidays.
Israelis typically hold large family gatherings and pack synagogues during the important fast of Yom Kippur, which comes days after the Jewish New Year.
Netanyahu has faced a national furore over his handling of the pandemic. Weekly protests demanding his resignation over corruption charges have now grown to include those demanding he resign over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Last week, Netanyahu announced overnight curfews on some 40 cities and towns hit hardest by the coronavirus, including several with large ultra-Orthodox populations, but backed away from reported recommendations for full lockdowns after an uproar by politically powerful religious politicians.
One prominent Israeli minister resigned ahead of the expected government decision to impose a nationwide lockdown.
Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who served as health minister during the initial outbreak of the virus in Israel, criticised the then anticipated lockdown measure as extreme and said it would cause undue suffering to the public.
Litzman, who heads an influential ultra-Orthodox faction in the coalition government, expressed particular ire toward restrictions that will limit observant Jews from attending communal prayers at synagogues during the upcoming holidays.
"The decision to impose a full lockdown over the holidays was planned in advance out of a lack of appreciation to the Jewish holidays," he said in his resignation letter. "My heart is with the hundreds of thousands of Jews who come to synagogue once a year and won't this year because of the lockdown."
Israel has had more than 150,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 1100 deaths. Given its population of 9 million, the country now has one of the world's worst outbreaks.
Litzman himself contracted the virus earlier this year.
Perhaps more damaging politically is the anger boiling among ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have been among Netanyahu's strongest supporters. Their leaders have used their political weight thus far to curb sweeping restrictions against their lifestyle of group study and prayer.
Infection rates in ultra-Orthodox communities have been among the highest in the country. The ultra-Orthodox tend to live in poor, crowded neighbourhoods where the virus can quickly spread. Synagogues, the centrepiece of social life, bring men together to pray and socialise in small spaces.
At the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu expressed regret over Litzman's resignation, though he said he respected it. He said severe measures were now needed after health officials "raised a red flag." - AP