Cabinet to rule on exit strategy as death toll crosses 2,000

1,000 m. limit may be lifted, debate continues on opening preschools.

Shops in Jerusalem sit closed during the national coronavirus lockdown, Oct. 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shops in Jerusalem sit closed during the national coronavirus lockdown, Oct. 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The government will debate an exit strategy from the nationwide lockdown on Tuesday after the coronavirus death toll crossed the 2,000 mark on Monday.
The coronavirus cabinet will meet today to decide on the stages for Israel’s exit strategy from the lockdown. On Monday, the Health Ministry reported 1,618 new infections – marking 7% of the number screened the previous day. Some 827 patients were in serious condition, including 227 who were intubated, and the death toll stood at 2,016.
The first stage of the exit strategy is expected to lift the 1,000-meter restriction on movement, permit the reopening of businesses that do not serve customers, allow takeaway from restaurants and permit the reopening of beaches and nature reserves, as well as reopening school for children ages newborn to six.
The biggest debate is expected to be about the date the preschools will reopen and whether it will be on Sunday or later this month. Health Ministry officials have openly argued about the issue in recent days, with Public Health Services Director Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis saying on Monday that they will need to stay closed and coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu calling to open them on Sunday.
Alroy-Preis claimed the infection rate will still be too high on Sunday to safely reopen. ”We will open the first stage, which includes the preschools, when we meet the morbidity indices,” she said at a briefing. “We have not yet met them.”
The ministry has said that it wants to see 2,000 or fewer new daily infections and a reproduction (R) rate of 0.8 or less to begin the first phase of the exit from the lockdown.
The Health Ministry’s deputy director-general, Prof. Itamar Grotto, sided with Gamzu in the argument over the preschools. “We are speaking about this coming Sunday, October 18, that we will open preschools for children ages 0 to six – meaning all preschools,” Grotto told Israeli media.
Gamzu told Muslim spiritual leaders in Kafr Kassem that “We want classes to resume as soon as possible, we want the students to go back to school as soon as possible – so first the youngest children, ages zero to six, could be grades one and two, already in the first stage – meaning in a week.”
Later, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tried to clarify the circumstances in an interview with Channel 12: “When we reach the desired rate of infection, we will be able to open preschools... I am optimistic that we will get there by Sunday.”
ALTHOUGH THE national education system remained closed on Monday, some schools in haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities, such as Beitar Illit, reportedly opened against regulations. Edelstein threatened that cities in which yeshivas opened against the law would be shut down.
Although the cabinet plans to rule on the exit strategy, a decision on the implementation date will be made on Thursday when more data is available.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a report on the enforcement of coronavirus regulations since September 18 presented to the Knesset Coronavirus Committee stirred outrage, after it showed that only one fine was issued for illegal prayer services in Jerusalem, despite evidence and reports of a number of violations over the past few weeks.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said that he would demand at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that small businesses that do not receive customers be allowed to reopen and that preschools also reopen “with the appropriate checks and other requirements of the Health Ministry.”
Netanyahu said that these businesses would open on Sunday and other sectors “in accordance with infection rates” during his remarks at the Knesset on Tuesday.
“If we act precipitously, if we capitulate to the pressure of every sector, we will very quickly come to another lockdown,” the prime minister said, calling for a reduction in the level of “criticism and violence” of the public debate at present.
The prime minister admitted that the government had opened the country too early after the first lockdown, citing specifically event halls and the education system. He hinted that this was the fault of his coalition partners.
“Populism won and Israel’s citizens lost,” the prime minister alleged, saying that “we have learned lessons from the exit from the first lockdown, and I hope others in this house have learned them, too.”
The Finance Ministry is expected to push to reduce the number of stages so that the economy can open faster. On Monday, the ministry reported that the deficit for September was NIS 14.9 billion, whereas at the same time last year it was NIS 1.9 billion.
Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) politicians threatened to fight any initiative to differentiate between red and green cities when assessing continued restrictions. MK Yakov Asher, chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said that “If there is no clear plan, there will be no closure on red cities.”
He asked how people in those cities would go to work, not be fired from their jobs, and receive medical care out of their zone. “Professionals cannot just ignite traffic lights,” Asher said. “They need to give an operational plan of action by which the state can run.”