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JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of Israelis demonstrated outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, resuming the weekly protest against the Israeli leader after emergency restrictions imposed as part of a coronavirus lockdown were lifted.

The protests were curtailed last month after Israel imposed new lockdown measures in response to a new virus outbreak.

The emergency regulations blocked Israelis from traveling to Jerusalem to protest and allowed people only to attend smaller demonstrations within one kilometer (half a mile) of their home.

The protesters gathered in central Jerusalem and marched to Netanyahu’s official residence, holding banners calling on him to go and shouting “Revolution!” Many blew horns and pounded on drums, while others hoisted Israeli flags. Scores of smaller demonstrations were held across the country, and organizers claimed some 260,000 people participated nationwide.

The protesters say Netanyahu must resign, calling him unfit to lead the country while he is on trial for corruption charges. They also say he has mishandled the virus crisis, which has sent unemployment soaring.

Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes for his role in a series of scandals. He has denied the charges and said he is the victim of a conspiracy by overzealous police and prosecutors and a liberal media.

Israeli media reported several incidents of violence by far-right counter-demonstrators. In the northern city of Haifa, police said they arrested three people suspected of using pepper spray on demonstrators.

Earlier this year, Israel managed to contain the virus outbreak by sealing its borders and imposing a strict lockdown. But a quick reopening of the economy led to a rise in cases, forcing a second lockdown.

Health officials say the new restrictions have brought the infection rate down, and Israel is set to begin easing the lockdown on Sunday by reopening daycare centers and some businesses. A full reopening is expected to take several months.

Unemployment, including people on open-ended furloughs, has soared to nearly 25%, according to government figures. Many of the protesters include business owners, entrepreneurs and workers who lost their jobs.

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Czechs enter 2nd lockdown to avoid health system collapse

PRAGUE (AP) — Czechs had been assured it wouldn’t happen again.

But amid a record surge of coronavirus infections that’s threatening the entire health system with collapse, the Czech Republic is adopting on Thursday exactly the same massive restrictions it slapped on citizens in the spring. Prime Minister Andrej Babis had repeatedly said these measures would never return.

“We have no time to wait,” Babis explained Wednesday. “The surge is enormous.”

Babis apologized for the huge impact the restrictions will have on everyday life but said if they were not taken “our health system would collapse between Nov 7-11.”

“I apologize even for the fact that I ruled out this option in the past because I was not able to imagine it might happen,” he added. “Unfortunately, it has happened and now, above all, we have to protect the lives of our citizens.”

The measures include limits on free movement and the closure of many stores, shopping malls and hotels. They will remain in place until at least Nov 3.

The Czech Republic had initially set an example with its effective and fast response when the pandemic first struck, but failed to learn from other countries’ subsequent experiences and now faces the consequences.

As the pandemic struck slightly later than in western Europe, Czech authorities gained some breathing space. They used it to impose sweeping restrictions on daily life in March, and — unlike most other European countries — made mask-wearing obligatory in all public areas.

In April, the country was the first, with Austria, to start to ease restrictions and — again unlike most other European countries — almost completely abandoned them in the summer.

In June, thousands declared victory over the coronavirus at a big party on Prague’s medieval Charles Bridge. Babis, considered a populist leader, was jubilant and told an international conference in August that his country was the “best in COVID,” despite already growing numbers of infected people.

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The atmosphere at Wednesday’s news conference, as Babis announced the new measures, was more sober.

“What happened was somehow predicted but nobody expected its scope,” Babis said.

Some experts had called much earlier for strict steps.

“(Even) yesterday (would have been) late, there’s a danger at every corner,” Jaroslav Flegr, a professor of evolutionary biology who predicted the surge a while ago, told Czech public television.

Many still remember when Babis’ then health minister, Adam Vojtech, and his team proposed in August a mandatory return of masks in schools. Babis dismissed that option and fired the minister weeks later when the numbers of new infections started to grow rapidly in September.

They still are.

The daily figure for new confirmed cases was a record of almost 15,000 on Wednesday. That was almost 3,000 more than the previous record, set on Tuesday.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Czech Republic has registered 208,915 confirmed infections, about one third of them in the past seven days, and 1,739 people have died — with a record 100 deaths registered Monday.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 32.81 new cases per 100,000 people on Oct. 7 to 92.88 new cases per 100,000 people on Wednesday.


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