Can Another Lockdown Save Israel From Its Second Coronavirus Wave?

 In COVID-19, Israel

The Israeli Cabinet has ordered a nation­al three-week lock­down start­ing Sept. 18 in an attempt to regain con­trol over surg­ing COVID-19 cases. The new strict three-week lock­down will bar Israelis from trav­el­ing more than 500 meters from their home except for essen­tials, clos­ing schools and lim­it­ing the pri­vate sector. The lock­down will begin at 2 p.m., just as the coun­try begins to observe Rosh Hashanah. The Israeli Health Ministry said it plans to lift the lock­down when the coun­try’s daily case rate drops below 1,000 a day. More than 4,000 cases were report­ed Sept. 15, with some hos­pi­tals and clin­ics indi­cat­ing they might soon be over­whelmed should trends con­tin­ue. 

The tra­jec­to­ry of Israel’s COVID-19 case­load sug­gests that its post-spring lock­down nor­mal­iza­tion strat­e­gy moved too quick­ly, result­ing in increased social con­tact that pre­cip­i­tat­ed spik­ing infec­tion rates by early July. As of mid-May, Israel had brought new daily cases down to fewer than 20 after a strict lock­down in April. Having suc­ceed­ed in con­trol­ling the virus’ spread, Israel quick­ly began to nor­mal­ize its econ­o­my and soci­ety, going so far as to reopen schools with­out restric­tions and allow­ing Israelis back into bars and restau­rants.

-By late June, the lifted restric­tions had caused virus rates to spike again. With over 1,000 cases record­ed July 1, the gov­ern­ment began to roll back nor­mal­iza­tion, clos­ing schools, lim­it­ing restau­rant access and shut­ter­ing bars by mid-July. 

Six months into the pan­dem­ic, the Israeli public is deeply wary of social dis­tanc­ing restric­tions. A resump­tion of strin­gent restric­tions will test the via­bil­i­ty of the unity gov­ern­ment put togeth­er to over­come inter­nal polit­i­cal paral­y­sis, and leave Israel in even worse eco­nom­ic shape.

-The pre­vi­ous lock­down sparked protests from ultra-Orthodox com­mu­ni­ties who felt tar­get­ed. Already, some ultra-Orthodox are protest­ing the new orders because they fall on the High Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah. Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, part of the United Torah Judaism party that holds togeth­er the unity gov­ern­ment, has resigned over the lock­down. 

-Israel’s gross domes­tic prod­uct declined 28.7 per­cent in Q2 2020, a his­toric decline, during its month­long strict lock­down. A second lock­down may lead to a repeat of those num­bers.

The lock­down will have lessons for other coun­tries now facing new out­breaks con­sid­er­ing poten­tial restric­tions, espe­cial­ly as most coun­tries now face sim­i­lar­ly resis­tant publics that don’t favor a return to the spring­time lock­downs. Other coun­tries that are also polit­i­cal­ly polar­ized will see if Israel’s unity gov­ern­ment can sur­vive a second lock­down, gaug­ing their own polit­i­cal risk by com­par­ing their domes­tic sit­u­a­tions to Israel’s dynam­ic par­lia­men­tary system. 

-Israel’s school reopen­ing expe­ri­ence helped inform debates about school reopen­ings in the United States and Europe, as Israeli health data point­ed to schools as a key vector for infec­tion. 

-Israel’s spring lock­down was large­ly suc­cess­ful in curb­ing the spread, but it also faced lower infec­tion rates when it began. The new lock­down will come during a new all-time peak in cases.

-The unity gov­ern­ment has been plagued by rumors of col­lapse, most recent­ly over the budget. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to find a way to avoid hand­ing power over to his rival, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, under the terms of their deal in 2021.

Israel's Second Lockdown to Stop COVID-19 Will Test the Government is repub­lished with the per­mis­sion of Stratfor Worldview, a geopo­lit­i­cal fore­cast­ing and intel­li­gence pub­li­ca­tion from RANE, the Risk Assistance Network + Exchange. As the world’s lead­ing geopo­lit­i­cal intel­li­gence plat­form, Stratfor Worldview brings global events into valu­able per­spec­tive, empow­er­ing busi­ness­es, gov­ern­ments and indi­vid­u­als to more con­fi­dent­ly nav­i­gate their way through an increas­ing­ly com­plex inter­na­tion­al envi­ron­ment. Stratfor is a RANE (Risk Assistance Network + Exchange) com­pa­ny.

Image: Reuters.

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