The government will convene a special hearing on Thursday at 3 p.m. to discuss the country’s exit strategy, a plan to gradually remove the restrictions that have been placed on the public to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In preparation for the discussion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the various parties to try and reach an agreement about what that strategy might look like. Until now, there have been two opposing viewpoints.
The Health Ministry believes that returning to work and daily life can be done only when the country sees 30 to 50 new patients per day. As of Wednesday, there were still hundreds of new patients being diagnosed with the novel coronavirus every day. The ministry argues that if the country opens too hastily, all its work to reduce infection and “flatten the curve” will be undone.
On the flip side, the Finance Ministry argues that the economy cannot take much more of the current restrictions. More than a million people are out of work and the unemployment rate is 26.1%. The ministry argues that Israel should move fast, or the economy may not be able to rebound.
Over recent weeks, the National Security Council (NSC) has been presented with plans by the Finance and Health ministries and teams of academicians, scientists, mathematicians, economists and others – many of which are at odds with one another – and has considered all these plans. Deputy National Security Adviser Eytan Ben-David will present the prime minister with several alternatives.
Ministers and representatives from the NSC, Health and Finance ministries and other experts are expected to participate in the discussion, which is expected to be very long.
It is expected that any phase I exit strategy will involve easing restrictions on workers, especially in the high-tech, finance and industrial sectors. The Finance Ministry is proposing opening small stand-alone stores, as well, though the Health Ministry is opposed.
Another debate centers on hairdressers and beauty salons. The Health Ministry is completely opposed because of the obvious contact between clients and staff. However, on the other side, officials are asking why they cannot open under guidelines provided by the Health Ministry.
Of the people who will present ideas is Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett. He is expected to call on the government to begin opening the economy, including educational institutions, as early as Sunday at the coronavirus cabinet meeting. He will push to open almost 100% of Israel's businesses except for those centered on entertainment and recreation and large shopping centers but recommend keeping employees over the age of 65 or people with underlying health problems at home.
Bennett has stressed that the economic damage is infinitely worse than the medical risk of coronavirus, which he believes is manageable. He said that continued closure will cause serious injury to the State of Israel and its citizens.
To help keep coronavirus in check, Bennett is expected to include in his plan a series of safety measures, such as maintaining social distancing, keep close watch on those over the age of 65 and in nursing homes, increasing the number of standard PCR tests and taking serological tests and allowing for targeted closures of buildings, neighborhoods or cities that have a high-rate of infection.
Over the holiday, several Arab villages in northern Israel were identified as having a high number of infected people. Residents were asked to stay home by the Health Ministry on Wednesday.
The epicenter of the outbreak is the 12,234 resident-strong Dir el-Assad, where 23 people tested positive, in addition to another four from Nahf, three from Ba'ana and one from Majd al-Kroum.
Joint List Health Committee head MK Ahmed Tibi said Wednesday afternoon that he had reached an agreement with Magen David Adom head Eli Bin and Dir el-Assad council head Ahmed Dabbah to open a drive-in coronavirus testing facility in the village.
Dr. Tibi reportedly asked the village's residents to call MDA and get tested in case symptoms appear. "We have all joined to combat the spread of coronavirus," he said, calling on citizens to "follow the Health Ministry's instructions, stay home and avoid gatherings."
In general, the Health Ministry conducted more than 11,501 tests on April 14 - the most coronavirus tests taken in a single day since the start of the pandemic. The day before it took 10,401.
Until now, the country was struggling to hit the goal of 10,000 and eventually 30,000 tests per day because of lack of supplies. But working together with the Defense and Foreign ministries and the Mossad, test components have been arriving.
A shipment of reagents to conduct 100,000 coronavirus checks and 50,000 personal protective suits for medical professionals landed in Israel from South Korea on Wednesday, according to the Defense Ministry. Both the reagents, the chemical compound used to extract the virus’s DNA from the samples and thus identify if a person being tested is positive, and the suits were sent to medical labs across the country.
The additional tests are reflected in the number of people diagnosed with the novel virus. As of Thursday morning, the country’s death toll hit 134 people.
A total of 12,591 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed by the Health Ministry, including 174 patients in serious condition, 140 requiring ventilation. Some 2,624 individuals have recovered from the virus.
Wolfson Medical Center in Holon confirmed that among those infected is an eight-day-old baby, who was born at Hadassah Medical Center on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. The baby was brought to Wolfson because he had a high fever, but he is currently in good medical condition. His mother is also infected.
Wednesday night marked the end of Passover, which is usually celebrated by many with the festival of Mimouna, a traditional Moroccan post-holiday greeting that has become popular across communities in Israel. In order to prevent people from gathering to celebrate both, the government placed the country under a general lockdown: intercity travelling was banned, as well as travelling between Jerusalem pre-defined neighborhoods until 5 a.m. on Thursday.
Moreover, supermarket bread departments and bakeries were asked to stay closed.
Police reported many Israelis who broke restrictions over the holiday on Wednesday. Police reported that 3,029 tickets were administered.
Still, a Passover-like lockdown is likely to be implemented again for Memorial Day through the end of Israeli Independence Day.
Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron in Hebrew, starts April 27 at night and Independence Day ends April 29 at sundown.
The purpose of the expected move is to prevent people from attending memorial ceremonies en masse, holding large gatherings in cemeteries or throwing barbeques and other parties in large groups and in public spaces, as is common on Independence Day.
The decision to implement restrictions will be based in part on how well the public does or does not adhere to the Passover restrictions and whether the number of people infected with coronavirus per day continues at its current rate or decreases or increases.
Leon Sverdlov contributed to this report.