Israel under lockdown for Passover holiday

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint press conference with Israel's health minister regarding preparations and new regulations for the coronavirus, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on March 4, 2020. (Photo by GALI TIBBON/AFP via

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday a complete lockdown over the upcoming Passover holiday to control the country's coronavirus outbreak, but offered citizens some hope by saying he expects to lift widespread restrictions after the week-long festival.

Netanyahu's announcement came as leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church in neighboring Egypt said they were suspending Easter celebrations because of the coronavirus.

Israel has already greatly restricted movement to help slow the outbreak, allowing people to leave their homes to buy food or other essential activities.

In a nationally televised address, Netanyahu said the government was further restricting movement for Passover, which begins Wednesday evening with a festive meal known as the “Seder.”

“Every family will sit down for Seder night on its own. Celebrate only with the immediate family that’s at home with you now,” he said.

Beginning Tuesday afternoon, Israel will ban movement between cities. From Wednesday evening until Thursday morning, Israelis will not be allowed to leave their homes.

Netanyahu said similar travel restrictions would be in place for the upcoming holidays of Easter and Ramadan later in April.

At the same time, he said “there are positive signs on the horizon” and that preparations were already underway for a possible easing of movement restrictions after Passover.

Israel has reported nearly 9,000 cases of coronavirus and 57 deaths.

For most people, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and even lead to death.

In Egypt, the Coptic church said it was suspending Easter prayers and celebrations at churches later this month.

Church spokesman Boulis Halim told The Associated Press that the church also suspended services for the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday, celebrated on April 19 by Egyptian Coptic Orthodox followers, one the world’s oldest Christian communities.

Mosques and churches have already been ordered to shut across Egypt to slow the spread of the deadly virus. Egypt has reported 1,173 cases and 78 fatalities so far.

Iran is facing the worst outbreak in the region. Iranian state TV reported Monday that the death toll there from the coronavirus rose by another 136 people, pushing total deaths to 3,739 amid 60,500 confirmed cases.