Netanyahu orders increased restrictions as cases climb to 3,619

Deaths rise to 12 • Haredim lead surge in new cases • Some 1,300 fines issued for defying directives.

THE NEW coronavirus ward was completed in three days last week (photo credit: RONI ALBERT)
THE NEW coronavirus ward was completed in three days last week
(photo credit: RONI ALBERT)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered authorities over the weekend to prepare to significantly tighten restrictions on movement starting Sunday, aiming to further reduce the number of people leaving their homes - and hopefully, contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Should there not be a change in the trend of infections over the weekend, Netanyahu warned, a full shutdown of the country will be necessary. The warning followed a meeting with ministers and ministry director-generals, during which the Finance Ministry was tasked with developing a plan for a further reduction of the country’s labor force.
The prime minister also ordered stepped up enforcement in supermarkets and pharmacies to ensure that people adhere to the Health Ministry’s directives regarding crowding.
However, according to ministry officials, as of Saturday there was slower than expected growth in the number of infections: Some 3,619 Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus - an increase of 926 cases over the weekend. Twelve people have died to date - all elderly individuals with underlying health conditions. Among the confirmed cases, 54 are in serious condition, including 43 intubated individuals. So far, 89 people have recovered.
An 82-year-old man, Shmuel Sifri from Haifa who was vacationing in Italy, also died of coronavirus, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday. The Israeli consul in Rome, Eitan Avraham, is assisting the family following the man's death.
The greatest challenge seems to be within the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods, where the numbers per 10,000 people are among the highest: 53 in Kiryat Ye’arim, 38 in Kfar Chabad and 13 in Bnei Brak, in comparison to 4 in Tel Aviv and 1.5 in Haifa.
“What is happening in Bnei Brak is like Italy,” one doctor from a major hospital in central Israel told Channel 12. “Almost every haredi who is tested for the virus is found positive. There are families with 100% infection. The Health Ministry needs to go door to door, and take the sick from their homes. If not, in another few weeks, we will see them coming in by masses.”
In an interview with the television channel, Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov explained that behavioral changes had been noted in both the haredi and Arab neighborhoods, but that “the potential for infection is greater in places with greater population density.”
Highlighting the difficulty for effective isolation within high-density areas and large families, Bar Siman Tov said ministers had agreed to open dedicated isolation centers for both haredi and Arab individuals.
Netanyahu’s proclamation came on the backdrop of an announcement by the Health Ministry that it will increase the number of people it tests for coronavirus to 30,000 per day within a month. On Friday, some 6,000 tests were taken, and that number is expected to increase to 10,000 by mid-week, a decision that Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called “tremendous news.”
Due to a technical problem, however, the Health Ministry said test results from the country’s 27 laboratories were delayed on Saturday.
Morris Dorfman, head of regulation at the Health Ministry’s Digital Health and Information Systems Directorate, said that the results of eight tests were reported incorrectly by two laboratories to the ministry. The results had not yet been transferred to the patients in question, he said, and operations at the laboratories were continuing as normal.
As the number of confirmed cases and deaths from the pandemic continue to soar worldwide, including a death toll exceeding 10,000 in Italy, Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. He sent condolences in the name of the Israeli government over the country’s large number of deaths. Netanyahu was set to convene a meeting with finance officials late on Saturday to finalize a delayed plan to support the economy and businesses struggling as a result of measures to contain the coronavirus.
On Saturday evening, Netanyahu is set to convene a meeting with finance officials to finalize a delayed plan to support the economy, as well as businesses struggling as a result of measures to contain the coronavirus.
The scope of the financial aid package requested by Netanyahu is set to be about NIS 80 billion, or 6% of GDP, including increased government-backed loans, deferred compulsory business payments and deferred taxation. It was also decided to include an NIS 5b. fund to bail out large businesses.
The plan, which will likely be presented for approval at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, will be in addition to NIS 8b. in support already allocated to businesses, primarily in the form of low-interest, government-backed loans.
On Friday, the government approved a series of emergency financial support regulations, including the provision of unemployment benefits for citizens over the age of 67 – estimated to stand at some 135,000 people. Individuals will receive up to NIS 4,000 if they were forced to leave work due to the outbreak.
“This is a significant and unprecedented step that shows the ongoing assistance of elderly citizens, especially those in the employment sector over retirement age,” Labor Minister Ofir Akunis said.
Among the latest casualties of the coronavirus was a 73-year-old man from Haifa with underlying conditions. His wife, 71, remains hospitalized at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center with the virus.
A 93-year-old man hospitalized at Soroka Medical Center, an 80-year-old man admitted to Wolfson Hospital and a 76-year-old woman treated at Rabin Medical Center also died over the weekend.
As of Saturday afternoon, police said they have issued 1,296 fines to date to individuals and businesses for defying Health Ministry directives.
A total of 849 fines between NIS 500 and NIS 5,000 were issued for prohibited activities in public; 152 fines for being present in a banned location; 108 for refusing to disperse from crowded locations; 105 for operating a forbidden business; and 73 for defying self-isolation orders.
Idan Zonshine contributed to this article.