Coronavirus: Thousands of Israelis in first protests since renewed lockdown

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Thousands of Israeli protesters gathered Sunday in Jerusalem to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the first such demonstrations since the start of a new nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

Authorities in Israel, which has seen one of the world’s highest per capita rates of novel coronavirus infections in the past two weeks, imposed a new nationwide lockdown on Friday.

Coinciding with the first day of the Jewish holiday season, it sparked particular anger among ultra-Orthodox Jews.

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While the government was praised for its initial handling of the pandemic, implementing a strict lockdown in March, many Israelis have accused the government of bungling its crisis response since.

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Protests are still allowed despite the new restrictions, and demonstrators were undeterred in joining the rally outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, as they have done every week for almost three months.

Many protesters wore masks, but did not distance themselves from each other to prevent transmission of the virus.

Police said barricades they had placed in the square where the demonstration was taking place were removed by the protesters who “did not listen to the rules and regulations.”

During the lockdown, set to last at least three weeks, Israelis will be limited to within a radius of one kilometer (mile) for leisure, with trips beyond that limited to shopping for supplies, seeking medical treatment or working in jobs considered essential.

Although economic activity usually slows during the Jewish high holidays, many in Israel fear the financial fallout of the second lockdown could be drastic.

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Netanyahu’s government had tried various measures in recent months to avoid a full shutdown, such as weekend closures, but has repeatedly backtracked in the face of opposition.

Last week, an ultra-Orthodox minister in Netanyahu’s government resigned over the nationwide lockdown plans.

Yaakov Litzman stood down as housing minister, protesting at measures that he said will prevent Jews from attending synagogues over the upcoming festivals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Israel has the world’s second-highest detected virus infection rate after Bahrain, according to an AFP tally over the past fortnight, recording 187,396 cases and 1,236 deaths.

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