Lockdown lite: Feels like the third time

The biggest difference between this and the previous two lockdowns is that the schools are open which creates an atmosphere of normalcy.

Police officers enforcing third lockdown on inter-city roads  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Police officers enforcing third lockdown on inter-city roads
Blink and you might miss the fact that Israel is more than a day into its third lockdown. And that isn’t because Israelis are ignoring the regulations this time around: It’s because there are fewer regulations and more people can live their lives normally – or almost normally.
The biggest difference between this and the previous two lockdowns is that schools are open, which creates an atmosphere of normalcy. All parents and their school-age children are automatically freed from the prohibition against venturing more than 1,000 meters from home and there is more traffic on the roads than in the two previous lockdowns.
While it stands to reason that there would be more traffic than last time, the actual volume of that traffic is surprising. According to data from the Pelephone Company, between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday, there was an average decrease of only 18% in the use of the popular Waze traffic app compared to the same hours last week.
By comparison, in the initial days of the first closure in March, there was a decrease of 50%-60% – and in the second closure in September there was a decrease of 30%-40% in the use of the app in the morning.
Partly due to a car accident on Road 4, there were real traffic jams at rush hour this morning. While the lockdown regulations say that offices that don’t receive the public must operate at only 50% capacity, between parents driving their children to school and employees heading to work, it looked pretty much like any other day in most places. During evening rush hour, traffic was only down about 30%, according to reports.
Police spokespeople promised enforcement on the roads, but said that it would be principally in the evening to check that people were actually returning from work and not going out to attend gatherings or visit friends.
Some streets were full during the day as well, even though stores were closed. Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, for example, was full of people sitting by the fountain and enjoying the sunny day, only some of whom were wearing masks. Police said that by Monday evening, they had given out about 2,000 tickets for not wearing masks, which is about what they have been giving out on most days recently.
The lack of strict regulations rankled at least one Health Ministry official: Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, director of public health. She lashed out at Prof. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist, at a meeting of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Sunday.
As Levine spoke about the fact that he was not sure a third lockdown was necessary, Alroy-Preis said, “We’re using the word ‘lockdown’ – even though this is not a lockdown if people are going to work and people are going to school, so there isn’t a lockdown.
“There are restrictions that may and may not be strict enough to lower infections in a meaningful way,” she said. “All the other comments are comments by people who can sit as advisers and say them – but the responsibility, in the end, won’t be theirs.”
While her words were measured, Alroy-Preis was clearly extremely angry as she raised her voice to the doctor, with whom she has sparred over policy at past meetings. She has often pushed for stricter regulations, while he has argued that if the hospital system is not near the breaking point – as it is not now – there is no purpose to lockdowns.
Judging from the first day of the third lockdown, with large numbers of Israelis going about their normal routine, many are pleased with the rules allowing workplaces and schools to operate. Whether the coronavirus numbers will prove Alroy-Preis right – that these rules may not be strict enough to lower the rate of infection – will only be seen in another few weeks.