JERUSALEM • Israelis reacted with anger and dismay yesterday at an imminent nationwide lockdown aimed at curbing one of the world's highest coronavirus infection rates.
"It's unfair!" lamented seamstress Eti Avishai, 64, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that a three-week lockdown would start on Friday.
"They didn't stop the big gatherings in synagogues, the weddings and the other events, and now I can't be with my children and grandchildren during the holidays?" she added.
The shutdown will be implemented hours before the start of the Jewish New Year and the High Holidays, which also include the Day of Atonement and Sukkot.
While Israelis largely accepted the strict lockdown imposed at the onset of the pandemic in March, this time many are frustrated at the way the health crisis has been handled since businesses and schools reopened in May.
"Instead of enforcing the rules in a strict way and systematically punishing those not wearing masks or who organised gatherings of hundreds of people, they are punishing us all collectively," said Mr Barak Yeivin, 56, director of the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music and Dance.
While weddings and other events were allowed over the summer, there have been widespread reports of Israelis surpassing the limits on numbers and breaking other health regulations.
Mr Yeivin said the second lockdown amounted to a "real disaster" for educational institutions like his conservatory since September marks the start of the academic year.
According to an Agence France-Presse tally over the past two weeks, Israel is second behind Bahrain for the world's highest coronavirus infection rate.
Israel has registered 156,823 cases with 1,126 deaths out of a population of nine million.
Officials pressed ahead with the start of the school year earlier this month in all but a few places with particularly high infection rates.
Last week, the government imposed a curfew in 40 high-risk towns and neighbourhoods, the vast majority Arab or ultra-Orthodox communities.
The measures failed to curb the spread of the coronavirus and Mr Netanyahu on Sunday warned that health officials had "waved the red flag" over the pressure on hospitals.
Rumours are already spreading of food shortages seen in the spring.
Those who support the new government measures argue that the economic impact will be limited because of the many public holidays. But there are widespread concerns over the damage the lockdown could have on mental health.
Ms Rivka Vaknin, 70, said she was "so depressed" at the thought of being alone during the holidays. "They could have done it before. Why now during the holiday season?"