Coronavirus: Infection rate rising in haredi sector - again

IKEA to open today * Bill to make Eilat, Dead Sea green zones advances

Border Police go about coronavirus inspections in Mea Shearim, a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Border Police go about coronavirus inspections in Mea Shearim, a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The decline in infection among the ultra-Orthodox sector has halted and the number of people being tested has declined, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Roni Numa said Tuesday.
Speaking during a press briefing, the head of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) division in the Health Ministry said that “the declining trend in the number of cases in the ultra-Orthodox sector has stopped in some localities, and in some cases has also increased.”
According to Numa, of the 710 people diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday, 11% were haredi. Moreover, he said that data from tests of sewage from Bnei Brak, Netanya and Elad indicate rising morbidity, although no exponential increase has been observed.
“It may happen later, but at the moment, we do not see a widespread outbreak,” he said.
Numa said that he does not believe the ultra-Orthodox community has reached the level of herd immunity and therefore they must continue to be screened and follow Health Ministry guidelines. He added that despite the rise in infection, there was no intention to shut down yeshivas.
“So far, 146 verified cases have been found in the yeshivas, out of 17,170 students,” Numa said. “We do not see any reason to close yeshivas… We want to see more testing, though.”
He also condemned the community for holding mass weddings, calling the phenomenon “completely against regulations and very disturbing.”
In general, infections have started to rise in the past week, calling into question when the country might be able to further relax restrictions, such as opening malls or sending pupils in grades five and six back to school.
In an interview with N12, outgoing coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu said that the reproduction rate was over 0.9. The Health Ministry said that the economy could not continue to open up if the rate surpassed 0.8.
There were 709 people diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday, plus another 388 between midnight and press time on Tuesday. There were 306 patients in serious condition; the death toll stood at 2,682.
If the infection rate had remained low enough, stage three of the exit strategy would have launched on Sunday, November 15. But there is talk that it could be pushed back by only a couple of days, until next Tuesday. However, the coronavirus cabinet would need to make that decision, and it has yet to set a date or time for a meeting.
“I do not believe that we are close to a third lockdown,” Gamzu told N12.
Meanwhile, IKEA will reopen on Wednesday.
The large home furnishings chain announced Tuesday that it would resume operations, claiming it had received a legal opinion that its products were “essential” and therefore it was allowed to open.
But Gamzu told N12, “I have no idea on what basis they are opening.”
After the last lockdown, IKEA was among the first chains to reopen, becoming an infection hotspot as people crowded into the cavernous stores that are the size of a small mall.
Shopping centers will stay closed, however.
Gamzu, and his replacement as coronavirus commissioner, Nachman Ash, have said they support a plan by mayor of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut and chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, Haim Bibas, to create “green complexes” that will be able to operate at full capacity – on condition that all visitors undergo coronavirus tests.
The plan would create areas and complexes that will be accessible only to those who have undergone a coronavirus test within 72 hours of their visit.
The idea is based on the position of the Health Ministry that people who test negative for coronavirus cannot infect others within 72 hours of the test. This allows for complexes to be created where nobody would be at risk of infecting others, or being infected.
The green complexes could allow a return to a routine for tourism and events, but they would need to follow the Purple Ribbon regulations for green cities as part of the Traffic Light plan.
The creation of the complexes will also encourage citizens to get tested more frequently, which will help the Health Ministry keep track of infection rates.
“We must have a future!” exclaimed Bibas during the meeting. “The residents of the State of Israel must be guaranteed a different reality. Entire industries must be saved: tourism, events, sports. It is impossible to just sit and wait and threaten lockdowns – this is a matter of life and death.
He said that “there is no doubt that our outline is a game changer.”
Gamzu said he would like to see the program piloted in 10 cities in its first stage. To move the program forward would require the support of the coronavirus cabinet.
Regarding schools, Education Minister Yoav Gallant said he would like to enable classes for preschoolers through fourth grade to remain open over Hanukkah break (December 13-17). He said that if school cannot remain in session, he will try to ensure that there is some kind of camp-like program to occupy children of parents who have returned to work.
Finally, the Knesset plenum and the Law and Constitution Committee both unanimously approved on Tuesday a bill that would turn Eilat and the Dead Sea tourist areas into coronavirus green zones.
The head of the committee, MK Yakov Asher, said the bill would be passed into law by Wednesday, allowing tourists to visit the sites this weekend.
The proposal to create “tourist islands” in Eilat and by the Dead Sea – where hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants and key businesses could open – fell victim to squabbles in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition on Monday.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein asked the Knesset plenum to remove the committee’s changes to the bill that would have allowed for other tourist sites to be added to the list and enabled people who have already had the coronavirus to enter them.
When the coalition failed to pass Edelstein’s amendments in a 49-46 vote, he announced that the government no longer supported the proposal, effectively killing it.
The version of the bill that passed 37 to zero in the plenum was identical to the one that fell on Monday. Knesset House Committee chairman Eitan Ginsburg, who proposed the bill, said he would negotiate possible changes with the Health Ministry ahead of the final votes.