Israel is set to tighten its second nationwide coronavirus lockdown, with the prime minister warning that the country is at “the edge of the abyss”. The new measures, which parliament must approve, would see more workplaces close and movement restricted further. Synagogues would only be able to open for small groups next week for Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day, and the size of protests would be limited. The move came after the daily number of new Covid-19 cases exceeded 8,000. That is one of the world’s highest rates of infection relative to population size. Since the start of the pandemic, 1,335 people with the coronavirus have died in Israel and more than 206,000 cases have been diagnosed.   Israel’s government was praised in the spring for taking early action that contained the spread of Covid-19 and resulted in a very low death rate compared to other countries. But it has come in for widespread criticism for losing control since the first lockdown was eased in May. The virus quickly returned and last Friday, as new cases reached daily highs of more than 5,000, Israel became the first developed country to return to a nationwide lockdown. Schools were closed and people were told they had to stay within 1km (0.6 miles) of their homes, except for commuting to work, doing essential shopping, exercising outdoors, and attending religious services and protests.   Synagogues were allowed to stay open but social distancing rules limited the number of worshippers who were allowed inside during the Jewish New Year festival of Rosh Hashanah. Ministers decided to impose harsher restrictions on Thursday after the infection rate continued to rise and health centres reportedly came under increasing strain. “The morbidity rate in Israel is rising, the number of critical patients is rising, unfortunately so is the number of deaths,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. “In the past two days, we heard from the experts that if we don’t take immediate and difficult steps, we will reach the edge of the abyss. In order to save the lives of Israeli citizens, we are required to impose of full lockdown for two weeks.”   The new measures are expected to take effect at 14:00 (11:00 GMT) on Friday and last until after the Jewish holiday of Sukkot ends on 11 October. Israeli media reported that they would include the closure of all businesses not considered “essential”. Synagogues would be closed except for Yom Kippur, which starts on Sunday. At other times, only outdoor prayer services would be allowed with a maximum of 20 people attending. Street protests also look set to be limited to 20 people at a time, which would potentially end the large demonstrations held for weeks against Mr Netanyahu. Rivals have reportedly accused the prime minister of using the measures as cover to stop dissent. He has called the rallies against him a farce. The protesters have gathered outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem every week to demand that he step down while on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

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