Energy minister calls to renew Shin Bet surveillance as coronavirus surges

On Sunday morning, the Health Ministry was reporting 33 new cases since midnight. The number of serious cases increased by three.

AT THE height of the crisis, the hospital was treating over 120 patients in five separate units and in a dedicated intensive care unit. (photo credit: TAL CHERES)
AT THE height of the crisis, the hospital was treating over 120 patients in five separate units and in a dedicated intensive care unit.
(photo credit: TAL CHERES)
Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz on Sunday called on the government to immediately reinstate the Shin Bet's surveillance in order to help find people who have come in contact with coronavirus patients.
Steinitz, who spoke at Sunday's cabinet meeting, said that given the sharp rise in coronavirus patients in recent weeks, the Shin Bet is needed to assist with contact tracing because it can "break infection chains within a few hours and not a few days."
He emphasized that, as long as there is no suitable alternative in the Health Ministry, "the tool that has proved to be the most effective in cutting the infection chains must not be waived." 
His words came after rumors circulated over the weekend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would  demand the return of digital surveillance by the Shin Bet if the infection rate continues to rise. 
The directors of the relevant government ministries convened Sunday morning ahead of what is expected to be an intense coronavirus cabinet meeting this week, to review what steps might be taken to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. At the same time, the Health Ministry asked hospitals to prepare for an immediate re-opening of their coronavirus wings.
"If the public does not stick to wearing masks and social distancing, we will be bringing back a full closure," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting. 
"I held consultations on the steep rise in morbidity," the prime minister continued. "This morning, I asked for a meeting with the director-generals of the relevant ministries, heads of local governments, head of the National Security Council and various experts who gave their assessments. They gave me different forecasts ... but these forecasts are all tough. We must flatten the curve now."
The Health Ministry "is expecting an alarming and continuous rise in coronavirus incidence, so we are again warning," said Head of Public Health Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, in an interview with Army Radio. "We are not trying to stress the public, but rather to tell it the truth. There is a limit to the capability of the health system."
According to a report by the Hebrew website N12, the Finance Ministry is calling for increased enforcement of Health Ministry regulations, such as wearing masks, keeping distance and maintaining hygiene. There is a call to increase fines for not wearing masks and to allow police to target businesses breaking Purple Ribbon regulations, including possibly closing them down.
Moreover, following decisions by Health Ministry Yuli Edelestein, the country would keep increasing testing and improve its contact tracing processes and procedures.
On Friday, Edelstein announced that he had secured funds from the Finance Ministry to hire 300 new contract tracers.
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said that the government is looking to balance between public health and the economy.
Sadetsky, mirroring comments made last week by Prime Minister Netanyahu, stressed in her interview that the goal is not to return to a full closure. Rather, he hopes to enact “mini-closures” on red zones, areas with the highest infection rates.
On Sunday morning, the number of infections in Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak and Jerusalem spiked more than in the last week. There were also increases in Bat Yam, Beit Shemesh, Herzliya, Netanya and several Bedouin communities in southern Israel.
The letter disseminated to hospitals reflected on the need to open the units in light of the increase in cases and the number of healthcare workers who have been forced into isolation as a result.
On Sunday morning, the Health Ministry was reporting 33 new cases since midnight, bringing the total number of infected people since the start of the crisis to 20,686. There are currently 4,716 active cases, including 43 serious patients - up three from the night before.
In terms of the education system, there are 714 teachers and faculty infected with coronavirus, the Education Ministry reported Sunday. Some 21,555 students and teachers are in isolation, and 215 preschools and elementary schools are closed.
The guidelines included a recommendation that hospital administrators provide staff with a refresher as to how best to protect themselves from contracting coronavirus at work.
On Sunday, N12 reported that additional staff members at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center were infected with the virus, sending hospital workers into isolation. "There is an explosion," a source told media site. "They are trying to cover it up."
The Health Ministry told hospitals on Sunday morning to prepare for an immediate reopening of their coronavirus wings.
"In Asuta Public Hospital in Ashdod, the coronavirus wing treated approximately 80 people, some of which were seriously ill and intubated," said CEO of Samson Assuta Ashdod University Hospital Dr. Erez Barenboim in response to the Health Ministry's message. "To my delight, the department has been closed for close to two months.
"At the same time, we are prepared and ready for any scenario with the most experienced doctors and the most advanced equipment," he continued. "At this time, the Health Ministry does not refer coronavirus patients to us, but if needed we will be happy to assist with our experience and capabilities as needed."
Gantz added that the "coronavirus routine" will change when there is a vaccine.
"We are working hard on it," he said in a Twitter post. "Two weeks ago, I visited the biological institute together with the prime minister and health minister. I saw first-hand their efforts to find a vaccine."
However, he said that "until that happens, we must not act hysterically. We must all show personal and national responsibility. We will be given clear guidelines, we will carry out inspections and enforcement, and the entire public is required to enlist."