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COVID-19: Israel In Full Crisis Mode As Cabinet Meets, May Order 1-Month Lockdown



Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adjusts his face mask during a visit to Beit Shemesh, Sept. 8 2020. (AP/Alex Kolomoisky)

Israel’s cabinet is scheduled to hold an emergency cabinet meeting Thursday evening to decide whether or not to impose a nationwide lockdown to stem the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus, Kan news reported.

Ministers who took part in the preliminary discussion of the corona cabinet told Kan news that the odds of a full closure were high.

Last week, Israel was ranked the worst country in the world per capita for the spread of the disease. The daily rate of confirmed infections has skyrocketed to new levels with just under 4,000 new cases confirmed in the past day.

Earlier this week the head of the national coronavirus task force, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, warned that Israel’s hospitals were close to capacity and hospital directors are calling for a national lockdown to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing, as their wards are full and they say they can’t treat additional corona patients.

As of Thursday morning, 3,951 new cases had been confirmed in the past 24-hours, bringing the number of active infections in the country to 32,217. There are 961 coronavirus patients hospitalized with 487 of them in serious condition. Of those seriously ill, 137 are connected to ventilators, and the death toll in Israel now stands at 1,055.

Those numbers reflect a dramatic spike in the past month as the government hesitated to reimpose harsher health restrictions, in order not to further damage a teetering Israeli economy.

If a closure is imposed, it is likely to take effect just before the start of the Jewish New Year, which begins the evening of September 18 and lasts until October 12, after the Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) holiday.

Millions of Israelis traditionally travel to join families for the holidays. Synagogues are packed to overflowing for prayers on the two-day New Year holiday and the annual Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

The government has run into resistance to its guidelines during the second wave of the disease as the Israeli public has come to view its orders as arbitrary.

One resident of the predominantly religious city of Modiin Illit reflected this attitude, saying he would not comply with the closure and blamed the government for failing to act.

“Anyone who thinks that on Yom Kippur I will not go to pray does not understand in what reality he lives,” Itzik Weinberg, 50, told Ynet on Thursday. “We’ll throw aside the checkpoints here. There will be a civil uprising here that no one can enforce.”

“I was sick with corona and recovered, but Gamzu and his friends must understand that even with [a fever of] 40 degrees Celsius, I will go to pray on Yom Kippur in the synagogue,” he said.

The closure restrictions are expected to include limiting traffic and movement to within 500 meters of homes, shutting down schools from fifth grade and above, and shuttering the economy except for essential jobs and services, supermarkets and pharmacies, Kan reported.

Because it is known that synagogues are a source of transmission, the government is expected to allow only outdoor prayer, a move that is expected to be opposed by the religious parties in the Knesset.

The “Corona Cabinet” of Knesset members dealing with the pandemic wants tighter restrictions, but a degree short of a full lockdown. However, ministers who took part in the discussions said a full closure is more likely.

Gamzo is recommending that the economy be only partially opened after the lockdown until the number of patients hospitalized is stabilized at 600 for two weeks.



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