Israel marks its Independence Day under coronavirus lockdown

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

The national holiday, which honors 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 meters (yards) 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 four planes crisscrossing the nation and performing aerial acrobatics over hospitals and medical centers.

President Reuven Rivlin hosted an annual televised event in which the president usually presents awards to soldiers. This year, the awards ceremony was postponed and the event was reconfigured as an online, star-studded tribute to medical workers and security forces, with performances by famous musicians and comedians but no live audience.

In a video message, Rivlin thanked Israelis for their “resilience.”

“I wish us all a happy and healthy year in which we can enjoy every moment of Israeli normality that we all miss so much,” he said.

Wednesday is also the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, a Nazi death camp. In honor of the occasion, the orchestras of the Israeli military and the U.S. Navy’s European command played the Israeli national anthem for Abba Naor, a Holocaust survivor in his 90s who lives in Israel.

The performance was made via a Zoom call, with each musician and the two conductors performing remotely. Naor, calling in from his home, stood for the national anthem and then thanked U.S. forces for liberating the camp and saving his life.

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 stabilized.

The Independence Day lockdown is set to be lifted Wednesday night. Most shops will then be allowed to reopen, provided they meet regulations on social distancing and hygiene. People are required to wear masks in public places.

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