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Israel stepped up measures against the Koran virus on Thursday as a second national block failed to reduce the world’s highest infection rate a week after it was imposed, AFP reported.

The new rules will close the vast majority of workplaces, closed markets and further restrict prayers and demonstrations.

“Saving lives is our priority – we live in a time of national crisis,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a televised press conference late Thursday, justifying the decision to step up restrictions.

“The state of Israel will overcome the epidemic and we will emerge stronger,” he added, without elaborating on all the measures taken by his government.

The move comes as Israel prepares to enter the second three-week shutdown imposed last Friday, which included school closures and restrictions on work and leisure.

According to the new measures approved during the first reading by the parliament on Thursday, only “substantial” work will be allowed from 2.00 pm. local time (1100 GMT) on Friday and synagogues will only be allowed to open in Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday that begins Sunday afternoon.

In other cases, only outdoor prayer with up to 20 people in attendance is allowed. The same restrictions were applied to the demonstrations.

The decision on whether to close Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv will be made later on Thursday, the government said.

“To save the lives of Israeli citizens, we must impose a full blockade now for two weeks,” Netanyahu said earlier.

“It simply came to our notice then. Anyone who thinks we can work with a massive pandemic, with deaths and infections on the rise, without affecting the economy, is wrong.

Israel has the highest per capita infection rate in the world, according to an AFP figure from the previous fortnight – more than 200,000 infections have been reported, from a population of nine million.

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