Jerusalem hit hard by coronavirus resurgence

Jerusalem hit hard by coronavirus resurgence
A new outbreak of coronavirus is threatening to decimate Jerusalem's tourism-centric economy, as Israel and the Palestinian Authority impose renewed restrictions
3 min read
Authorities took too long to respond to the latest virus wave, say experts [Getty]
Once bustling with tourists from around the world, Jerusalem's streets are eerily quiet - a result of the travel restrictions imposed by the need to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Now a new outbreak of coronavirus is threatening to deal a further blow to the economy.

Israel is reimposing a series of restrictions after seeing a surge of coronavirus infections in recent weeks.

The government decided Monday it was shuttering all events spaces, bars, clubs, gyms and public swimming pools. It is limiting occupancy at restaurants and places of worship. The decision still must be approved by the Knesset.

The move comes as Israel, which appeared to have largely contained its initial outbreak, is seeing a swift rise in cases. Experts have warned that Israel is "losing control," saying it moved too quickly to reopen its economy after a lockdown and did not properly prepare for a second wave of infections.

Israel now counts more than 30,000 cases since the start of the outbreak, with nearly 18,000 recovering. More than 330 people have died.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was widely praised for Israel's successful management of the early stages of the crisis is now facing growing criticism.

Netanyahu moved quickly to close the country's borders and impose other strict measures to contain the spread of the virus, and Israel was among the first in the world to reopen its economy in May. He boasted on live TV how other countries were looking to Israel as a model of how to handle the pandemic.

But the exit strategy appears to have been badly bungled, and facing a drastic surge in confirmed Covid-19 cases the country has begun shuttering again. Experts warn the government waited too long to respond to the latest wave and now is on a path to calamity.

"He (Netanyahu) is a thief. He does not help anyone with the corona (virus) Here we are out of work...Shall we go and steal? Start looting? There is nothing (no work)," said taxi driver Majed Rajbi.

In Jerusalem's iconic Old City shops have been closed for weeks as no tourists have come into the country.

The Jewish Market, known as Mahane Yehuda, also a popular tourist attraction with its assortment of sweets and spices, nowadays is visited by locals for grocery shopping only.

"This is terrible," said Rafael Haroush owner of a halva shop in the market. "There is no movement of people at all."

Like elsewhere in the world, Israel is struggling to balance between containing the spread of infections and protecting the economy. Unemployment shot up to more than 25 percent during the first surge and many of those jobs have yet to come back.

Small businesses, the self-employed and particularly the dining, entertainment and tourism industries are warning that another large-scale shutdown will be a death blow.

Meanwhile in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday announced an extension of a lockdown that began on Friday, following a spike in new coronavirus cases.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Monday called on Israel to close crossings, saying a lack of Palestinian control over the access points was responsible for the surging number of cases.

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