Israel marks Independence Day under coronavirus lockdown

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israelis celebrated their Independence Day at home yesterday amid a nationwide lockdown aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The national holiday, which honours the creation of Israel after the end of the British Mandate in 1948, is usually a festive occasion, with people heading to the beach, hosting barbecues and watching fireworks.

This year, however, the government has banned public gatherings and ordered people to remain within 100 metres of their homes unless they require medicine or have other vital needs. Public transportation has been shut down and police are manning roadblocks to prevent travel.

The Israeli air force devoted its annual fly-by to health workers, with planes criss-crossing the nation and performing aerial acrobatics over hospitals and medical centres. Other events were broadcast online, with no live audience.

Israel has reported more than 15,700 cases and at least 210 deaths from the coronavirus. The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, but can cause severe illness or death, particularly in elderly patients and those with underlying health problems.

Israel imposed sweeping restrictions on movement and ordered most businesses to close in mid-March. It has recently begun easing those restrictions as the rate of new infections appears to have stabilised.

The Independence Day lockdown was lifted yesterday night. Most shops will then be allowed to reopen, provided they meet regulations on social distancing and hygiene.

Drones form number 72 during celebrations for Israel’s 72nd Independence Day, in Ramat Gan, Israel. PHOTO: AP