In many ways, Israelis were better prepared mentally for the shock and disruption in their lives sparked by the coronavirus pandemic than their counterparts in Europe, North America and other developed countries.
Thanks to military conscription, a high percentage of the adult population is used to receiving and following orders handed down from on high. Even the youngest Israelis have seen their routines disrupted numerous times in recent years by missile attacks, terror waves and full-on war. They are used to receiving government directives on how to behave in a crisis, and, for the most part, trust their institutions – if not the politicians at their helm – to keep them safe.
– Haaretz Weekly Episode 68
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It is not only in wartime that they are used to following rules en masse. On Yom Kippur, for instance, the entire Jewish state completely shuts down and its citizens refrain from using their cars. On Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day, almost all of the country collectively and obediently falls silent as a haunting siren sounds.
Despite this extensive cultural preparation, however, there was still a feeling of disorientation and confusion in the air as Israel woke up Sunday, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the far-reaching measures designed to fight the coronavirus.
The restrictions Netanyahu billed as a “new way of life” were drastic steps maximizing social distancing in order to slow the spread of the virus. However, they avoid a total lockdown, in an effort to balance the public health with an attempt to keep the country’s economy functioning at a basic level.
The biggest disruption – the announcement that elementary and high schools were being closed – was made on Thursday. But in his Saturday night announcement, Netanyahu expanded that order, with private and public preschools and kindergartens, special education classes, scouts, after-school programs, and other group activities shuttered too.
Workplace and business activity was not completely curtailed. But with the government prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people in the same space and ordering people to remain 2 meters (6.5 feet) apart, they were highly limited and workplaces were strongly encouraged to shift as many employees as possible to working from home.