Israel has reimposed some lockdown measures following a vigorous second surge in the number of coronavirus infections, putting in place stringent weekend shutdowns in which shops, hairdressers and attractions will be closed.
The government announced the measures in the early hours of Friday morning, following a marathon emergency cabinet session called after daily infection rates climbed to close to 2,000.
Gyms and fitness studios will also be closed at all times, while restaurants, which opened again in May, will return to takeaways and deliveries only. All indoor gatherings of 10 or more people will be banned.
Changes start from this weekend, which in Israel begins on Friday afternoon, the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, and last until Sunday, the first working day of the week. Nurseries will remain open, although closures were being considered.
Israel Radio reported that full lockdowns, with people again confined to their homes, might be imposed from next weekend, after parliamentary approval.
The country of 9 million was initially praised for a swift lockdown in March that was credited with reducing daily infections to single digits. However, officials and public health officials say the economy was reopened too hastily and without necessary steps taken to control the pandemic.
With more than one in five Israelis unemployed, Benjamin Netanyahu has faced mounting public anger over his handling of the crisis, with thousands of protesters holding frequent demonstrations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The Israeli prime minister is also fighting three corruption allegations, including charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust – accusations he denies.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu had presented a 6bn shekel (£1.4bn) package, with payments of up to £175 for individuals, rising to nearly £700 for families, arguing it would boost spending and “get the economy moving faster”.
The plan, which needs cabinet approval, was swiftly rejected by senior officials, including government ministers, who said the money should instead be targeted at the poorest citizens. One prominent Israeli columnist, Ben Caspit, accused the leader of “handing out bribes to the masses” to placate nationwide discontent.
A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute thinktank this week found only about 30% of the public trust Netanyahu’s response to the pandemic.
However, other polls have shown his ruling Likud party remains the most popular in the country, even if slightly fewer people would vote for it.