Netanyahu pushes to lockdown at night against health recommendations

Prof. Hagai Levine: ‘One should avoid trying to pull rabbits out of hats’

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 coronavirus cabinet met Thursday to discuss the necessary steps to prevent an increase in infection while at the same time allowing more of the economy to open and children to return to schools. Despite hesitation by top health professionals, implementing a night curfew continues to top the list of likely next steps.
No decisions on the night closure or anything else were finalized, as Defense Minister Benny Gantz was on a security visit in Cyprus. The cabinet is meant to reconvene on his return to make final decisions.
“We are in a very good place today; many countries would like to trade places with us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “Our level of morbidity is lower than in Europe and we need to keep it there. That is why the opening will be done in this way: When we open something, we subtract something in order to reduce the risk of illness.”
Among the ideas that were floated around at the meeting: maintaining the status quo (Health Minister Yuli Edelstein’s preference); moving forward despite the infection rate; and balancing reliefs with a night curfew (proposed by the National Security Council). There was also talk once again of increasing enforcement and raising fines, as well as lowering the criteria for labeling cities as red zones and requiring them to lock down.
The night closure, however, tops the list – but is being met by strong opposition from health experts both inside and outside of the Health Ministry, and from Blue and White.
“One should avoid trying to pull rabbits out of hats,” said Hagai Levine, head of the Public Health Physicians Association. He said the goal should be preventing dangerous activities and not taking broad, sweeping steps.
“If the dangerous activity is evening gatherings, then one should prevent evening gatherings,” he said, “not prevent the freedom of movement of people who may want to go out for a run in the evening because this is the time that is convenient for them.”
He accused the government of looking for magic-bullet solutions rather than working with the public, saying that he thinks the government is pushing for a night curfew because it has not managed to convince the people to keep the regulations.
 
SIMILARLY, Prof. Nadav Davidovich, a member of the expert advisory team for the coronavirus commissioner, argued on KAN news that the move has no epidemiological value. He accused the prime minister of using the night curfew as an attempt to show the public that the government is doing something to stop rising infection.
“There is an attempt here to say, ‘we are not succeeding in coping, so we will do things so that the public will see that we are doing something,” he said on the radio.
“A night closure is only worth it if it enables the government to do what it has not managed to accomplish up until now,” former Health Ministry director-general Prof. Gabi Barbash told The Jerusalem Post. “If the government sends everyone into their houses and weddings continue because they cannot enforce against them, it will be a waste of time.”
Within the Health Ministry, too, the professionals said a night closure was unlikely to achieve its goals.
Edelstein said in an interview with Army Radio that professionals are discussing the efficacy of such a move and are not aligned on it.
“I think that it could be useful but is dependent on a thousand details, such as from when it is implemented,” Edelstein said, adding that they are discussing it because “there are not too many options for other actions to take.”
A little later, Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy spoke on Army Radio as well. He, too, stressed that the effectiveness of night curfews is unclear at best.
“A night curfew now in the State of Israel would be one that deals with things that do not exist anyway, at least according to the law and regulations – restaurants, bars and pubs,” Levy said. “It has not been conclusively proven that night closures alone can lower morbidity.”
 
GANTZ AND his Blue and White Party spoke ahead of the meeting and decided that at this time, there was no point in imposing a nightly closure and that they would oppose it. This was also part of the reason why no decisions could be made on Thursday.
Despite the opposition, Netanyahu held an emergency late night meeting on the subject to gauge its feasibility. If a decision to move forward passes, there are still many questions on the table, such as what time it will start, will people be confined only to their neighborhoods or also to their homes, and will police be able to enforce a closure at all.
Blue and White ministers said they supported increasing fines, lowering the threshold for becoming a red zone, opening commercial areas in green zones, and allowing fifth and sixth graders to return to their classrooms.
Edelstein reiterated the need to raise fines: “The cabinet has already approved increasing fines; so has the government and the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Since then it has been forgotten; its traces have disappeared. We are simply hurting ourselves.”
The meeting took place against the backdrop of higher than expected infection: some 735 new cases on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported Thursday evening, with 1.9% of people screened testing positive. The reproduction rate (R) stands at 0.89, according to the Health Ministry, meaning that each infected person infects slightly less than one other.
There were 298 people in serious condition, among them 133 who were intubated. The death toll stood at 2,706.
 
AT THE MEETING, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat said that the opening of schools and businesses has caused an increase in infection, though it was difficult to put a finger on which relaxation of restrictions specifically led to the rise.
“There is a decrease in the number of patients, but it is no longer as sharp as it has been in recent weeks,” he said.
Also, among the data presented at the cabinet were an upward trend in the reproduction rate in the ultra-Orthodox community (0.81) and a decrease among Arab society (to 0.97 from more than one). Nearly 6% of all Arabs screened for the virus tested positive, as well as around 3.2% of haredim (ultra-Orthodox).
The Finance and Health ministries were once again at odds on Thursday, with Finance Minister Israel Katz accusing the Health Ministry shortly before the meeting of “waging an unjustified war of attrition” on shopping malls.
“There is no reason not to allow the malls to operate in accordance” with Health Ministry rules, Katz claimed during the cabinet meeting. He said opening malls would allow tens of thousands of unemployed people to return to work. He also agreed that malls should be closed at 9 p.m.
Finally, Interior Minister Arye Deri said that he believes the reason that people are not being tested or cooperating with epidemiological investigations is because they do not want to send their friends, family and colleagues into isolation. He recommended that the isolation period be shortened to seven days, subject to two negative PCR swab tests. Netanyahu said that he agrees.
The conversation came despite an announcement earlier in the day by the Health Ministry that the isolation period was already being reduced by two days – from 14 to 12.
“We will do it responsibly to maintain life and health – for you, the citizens of Israel, and also to reactivate the economy and education,” he said. “With God’s help, we will succeed.”