Easing coronavirus lockdown restrictions not likely before October 18

Netanyahu: No decision on changes until at least Monday

Police set up a checkpoint in Jerusalem as Israel enters its second coronavirus lockdown (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Police set up a checkpoint in Jerusalem as Israel enters its second coronavirus lockdown
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel is set to remain under lockdown for at least another two weeks, according to reports following the coronavirus cabinet meeting Monday evening.
The cabinet is expected to meet again on Thursday, but only make decisions next Monday, as the virus continues to spread around the country with only a mild decrease in the rate of infection.
While Health Ministry reports showed that there is cause for “cautious optimism,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “we must act on data. I said yesterday that there is cautious optimism, but I am more cautious than those who are careful. I think we have learned that it is worth working in a very measured and orderly way.”
He said that only after Simhat Torah, the Jewish holiday that ends Saturday night at sundown, will the government be able to make an informed decision.
“I do not intend to bring up the easing of restrictions nor increasing restrictions until Monday,” the prime minister said.
The meeting lasted several hours and the ministers were still discussing at press time.
Blue and White ministers are pushing for some loosening of restrictions on the private sector immediately after Simhat Torah. However, the Health Ministry presented a plan that would only allow a first stage of easements once the reproduction number (R) – the number of people that one infected person will pass on the virus – is reduced to 0.8 and there is an average of 2,000 new patients per day.
On Monday, the Health Ministry reported some 2,907 new patients. However, only 26,343 people were tested – an infection rate of 11%.
The last time the R was at 0.8 was in May.
The plan presented to the cabinet by the Health Ministry was prepared in consultation with the National Security Council and a team of internal and external health experts and is multi-tiered. Between the stages, there would be two weeks to evaluate the impact of the one before.
If at any time the infection rate spikes, the country would revert backwards or wait. And, according to the model, if the infection rate reaches more than 10%, Israel will revert back all the way to the first phase.
According to the plan, the school system would take the longest to open up in its entirety and, when it does, it is expected to still contain a hybrid online-in-person learning program.
The plan also relies on a minimum of 30,000 tests being done per day, as health officials have continually recommended as a baseline number.
If any release does take place by October 18, the country would likely be looking only at phase one, which would allow non-customer facing businesses to operate under the Purple Ribbon outline. Schools for children six and under would also resume, and perhaps the airport would resume outgoing flights – but it is expected only for business travelers.
It would take at least another two weeks for children through grade four to return to school and it is only in a final phase – an expected three months or more away – that all children would be back in school. First through fourth graders would only return to school when the number of new daily patients dropped to 1,000 and fifth and up when it fell to 250.
Once the final phase is reached, the traffic light program would be carried out.
Although no final number has been set, it is expected that the final phase would only occur when Israel reports around 400 new patients per day, as was the goal set by coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu many months prior.
In a report presented Monday by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, which is overseen by the IDF, it said that Israel continues to have the highest number of new cases per day per capita in the world.
“In recent days, there has been a slight decrease in the national rate of positive cases, however, it is still very high,” the report said.
It said it would take another 85 days at this rate to reach around 400 new patients per day and that the rate would need to drop much lower than now to be able to effectively cut the infection chains.
Gamzu stressed at the meeting that he still feels that enforcement should be increased to ensure adherence to the restrictions. He noted that some businesses would rather receive a NIS 5,000 fine than shut down. Gamzu proposed doubling the fine to NIS 10,000 and to increase the fine on holding illegal gatherings, like weddings, from NIS 5,000 to NIS 50,000.
The Finance Ministry said at the meeting that if the lockdown is extended in its present form after the holidays, it will cost the economy around NIS 6 billion every two weeks.
Ahead of the meeting, Economy Minister Amir Peretz called on Netanyahu to “come down from the tree” and listen to health experts, who he said do not believe as full a lockdown as now is necessary.
Blue and White also met in advance of the meeting and said it planned to push for opening businesses that do not receive the public immediately after the holiday if the decline in morbidity continues.
A statement by the party released during the deliberation said it supported a clear and phased exit strategy like the one presented by the Health Ministry, so long as it included clear morbidity targets that were set in advance.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of only 26,343 people being screened for coronavirus the day before.
“There is no shortage of tests. We have enough to test 70,000 people on weekdays and 25,000 on weekends,” the ministry said. Despite the drop, the ministry said it aims to test as many as 100,000 per day by November.
“The Health Ministry asks the public to be tested during the [Sukkot] holiday, as well,” it said in a statement, noting that fewer people being tested has led to the drop.
In other numbers, there were 66,198 active patients Monday evening, of which 1,643 were being treated in the hospital. Some 883 people were in serious condition, including more than 220 who were intubated.
The death toll stood at 1,749 at press time.
Sources in Blue and White said that in a faction meeting on Sunday night, there was a consensus on supporting renewing anti-protest regulations later this week.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay sparred at the meeting. But the sources said there was also a consensus on not leaving the government under any circumstances any time soon.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.