Coronavirus: What would a total lockdown in Israel look like?

If the authorities do reach the decision, “everything will be closed except for what is vital, such as food and medicines, while all the rest would be forbidden,” the official said.

A man wearing a mask walks inside a shopping centre after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government announced that malls, hotels, restaurants and theaters will shut down from Sunday, in an escalation of precautionary measures against coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 15, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
A man wearing a mask walks inside a shopping centre after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government announced that malls, hotels, restaurants and theaters will shut down from Sunday, in an escalation of precautionary measures against coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 15, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
If the country enters a total lockdown to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, what will it look like?
On Wednesday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in light of the outbreak, a total lockdown in Israel was inevitable. A few hours later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was ready to issue the order if the emergency intensified and the public did not heed restrictions already imposed by the government.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, a senior government official said the lockdown is not going to be declared before Sunday and maybe even later than that.
If the authorities do reach the decision, “everything will be closed except for what is vital, such as food and medicines, while all the rest would be forbidden,” the official said. Whatever decision the government makes, the public will be well informed with clear explanations issued through all possible channels, including television and social media, the official said.
“All the citizens will know exactly what is allowed and what isn’t and what they should and shouldn’t do,” the official said, adding that the police and not the army would be granted the authority to enforce the measures. The government is currently considering what the lockdown would entail, the official said.
In the meantime, police are working to ensure that the restrictive measures issued so far are respected, but they are also preparing to implement any new government decision, Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the Post.
Since Wednesday, more government agencies have been involved in the fight against the coronavirus, specifically the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which joined the efforts of the police, Health Ministry and Border Police, he said.
“We are now capable of tracking individuals or transferring information of those who were in the area of someone who was discovered sick for a certain time period, at least 15 minutes, within the space of two meters,” Rosenfeld said.
The tracking system also would be used during a total shutdown, he said.
“The Israel Police, as of today, is fully prepared and has made preparations for the possibility there is a government decision of a full closure of the country, which would mean that people would not be in the streets or leave their houses,” Rosenfeld said.
The police would be in the streets to make sure that the regulations are observed, and they could levy sanctions, he said. The types of sanctions are to be determined.
“The important message that people should understand is that the Israeli government, Health Ministry and national police are taking every step and every measure in order to prevent the coronavirus from expanding,” Rosenfeld said.  
The government has passed exceptional regulations to control the outbreak under the 1940 Public Health Ordinance, Yuval Shany, a professor of public international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told the Post. The ordinance gives the authorities broad powers to retain or isolate people infected or suspected to be infected, as well a general power to legislate other matters to protect public health.
However, a total lockdown likely will be promulgated under Section 39 of the Basic Law: the Government, which states: “During a state of emergency the Government may make emergency regulations for the defense of the State, public security and the maintenance of supplies and essential services.”
“Israel has been in a permanent state of emergency since 1948, so there is no need to declare it,” Shany said. “Emergency regulations were used very often for matters that were not security related, for example, to regulate the economy... The last time that emergency regulations were used was about three years ago in connection with a strike at a nuclear plant.”
Emergency regulations are still subjected to parliamentary and judicial review, he said. That the Knesset currently is not functioning might represent a constitutional problem, he added.
Shany said he believes the current situation justifies the promulgation of emergency measures. If the government issues them, they will be valid for 90 days before requiring the Knesset to approve them.
To understand what kind of a measures a full lockdown might imply, it is worthwhile to look at the most comprehensive precedents in other countries in the world: China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak originated, and Italy, which has registered the highest number of deaths – 3,405 as of Thursday night – and more than 41,000 infected.
In both cases, as has already happened in Israel, schools, universities, museums, public parks and libraries have been closed.
In Wuhan, people were ordered to stay home, public transportation was halted, private cars were banned, industries and stores were shut down – except for pharmacies and supermarkets – and only one family member was allowed out a limited number of times a week to buy food. No one was allowed to leave the city without permission from authorities.
In Italy, the first country to issue a full national lockdown, the measures have so far been somewhat less restrictive: Even if the government recommends that people work from home, in companies or industries where it is not possible, employees are still allowed to go to work.
Public transportation at both the local and national level has been reduced but continues operating, except in limited areas. People may leave home for “proven necessities,” which they need to state in an official form that has to be provided to the police upon request.
The justified reasons to leave home include buying food and medicine, doctor’s appointments and going to work – but not visiting family members. Gatherings in public or private places are prohibited. A hotly debated issue at the moment is whether people are allowed to go running or walk by themselves. The authorities are considering explicitly banning it, as well as shutting down nonessential industries and offices.