Israel ordered a second lockdown in response to coronavirus resurgence. It’s not going so well.
JERUSALEM — As one of the few countries to return to a complete lockdown amid resurgent coronavirus infections, Israel is learning that freezing a nation in place is even more difficult the second time around.
After a nearly two-month national quarantine last spring — in which Israel’s 9 million residents largely complied with orders to stay home — autumn’s Lockdown II has proven to be far leakier and more contentious.
A restive public — dubious that the restrictions are necessary, desperate to make a living and outraged at reports of politicians ignoring their own rules — has been less willing to bottle itself up since the second quarantine began Sept. 25.
Whole neighborhoods and towns have openly ignored rules against gatherings at synagogues, weddings and funerals, particularly in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious communities. With workplaces and schools shut, parks are filled with families and exercise groups. Social media is rife with stories of citizens of all stripes blowing through the official 100-meter limit on trips from home, with many couching visits to friends or family as permitted grocery runs.
One video of police dragging a celebrant from an illegal wedding was widely shared and viewed Wednesday. Police said one officer received minor injuries when members of the wedding party threw bottles.
“During the first lockdown, we saw so many people who were focused on tackling this pandemic as a united community,” said Brig. Gen. Sigal Bar-Tzvi, commander of community policing for the Israel Police. “This time around though, people are worrying more about themselves and their own needs. There is a lot less community spirit.”
Public health officials, many of whom opposed a blanket lockdown as overly blunt, worry that the spotty enforcement, government infighting and vacillating policy are creating cynicism that will make it harder to fight the outbreak in months to come.
“People have lost even more trust, and I’m afraid they will not be as cautious in the future,” said Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. “There is no public health without the public.”
Small businesses, which been decimated by the pandemic-driven economic collapse, have turned to guerrilla retailing, risking fines of about $1,500 to pass housewares and toys through semi-open front doors.
Along Emek Refaim, a popular Jerusalem shopping street, a dry cleaner, hardware store and flower shop were lights on, doors open despite the lockdown Sunday, which is a regular business day in Israel. “I’m open unless the police come by and then I’m closed,” said Benny, the owner of a flower shop, who asked to give only his first name.
Elsewhere on the street, a shadowy trade was unfolding, where doors were closed but owners could be seen inside. At Hoshen Jewellry, owner Ziva Mizrahi had just let two customers in while she was doing some paperwork.
“If I’m here and they knock, I have to do it,” she said. She doesn’t want to violate the coronavirus restrictions, but business is down 90 percent since the lockdown began. “Otherwise, I don’t know how long I can hold out.”