Coronavirus chaos as gov't, Knesset battle over what to do next

On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported that there were 1,414 people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on Saturday. Of those infected, there are 238 in serious condition.

Knesset coronavirus committee meets to discuss ongoing regulations in Israel, July 19, 2020 (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESWOMAN - ADINA WALLMAN)
Knesset coronavirus committee meets to discuss ongoing regulations in Israel, July 19, 2020
More than 50 people died from the novel coronavirus in the past week, but there is still confusion over what the final set of coronavirus restrictions will be.
The government left the late-night meeting last Thursday with no decision about how to handle summer schools and camps.
A message from the Prime Minister’s Office early Friday explained that “decisions about camps and other educational programs will be determined in the coming days by the prime minister and alternate prime minister, in consultation with the finance, health and education ministers.”
A meeting to discuss the matter has not yet been scheduled, and it is likely that these programs will continue at least through the end of the week, though this is not certain.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant has argued that out of 700,000 students, only about one-tenth of 1% have contracted coronavirus, which does not warrant shutting the schools down. Parents and the local municipalities are also opposed to the move.
The Knesset Coronavirus Committee is expected to vote on changes to the government directives to fight the spread of the virus on Monday.
Among the changes to the restrictions that are likely to be demanded by the committee:
• Beaches and pools should stay open, but gathering should be limited
• Restaurants should operate under “Purple Ribbon” status and be allowed to open at 35% occupancy, like hotel dining rooms
• Gyms should stay open but could be required to limit occupancy to one person per 10 meters
• Zoos, safaris and other trails and activities in open spaces should continue to operate
• Tourist attractions in Eilat should be allowed to open.
According to Lev Drucker, deputy to the chief economist of the Finance Ministry, the government’s current restrictions that require certain weekend closures are set to cost the country NIS 850 million (NIS 300m. for Saturday and NIS 500m. for Friday).
The recommendations were decided upon after a heated debate in the committee, during which the Health Ministry presented new data on infections.
Israel is among the countries with the highest number of sick patients out of those tested, Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto said.
“I am worried about the situation,” he said, “The hospitals are currently packed with patients and are teetering on the edge of being able to sustain the load. We see at the moment that the time between when a person enters the hospital until he deteriorates is around two weeks.”
“Today, we see in the hospitals the morbidity of two weeks ago,” Grotto said. “Looking ahead, the situation will go up and up. Even if today, the whole country is locked down and no one leaves their homes, we will see a continuation of the infection.”
One person can “create a huge chain of infection,” he said, citing a graduation party in Ra’anana and a wedding in Dimona in which double digits of people caught coronavirus.
Grotto’s comments came only hours before the Health Ministry released its latest report on the number of newly infected people: 1,437 people on Saturday (7% of those tested). Among the sick are 254 people in serious condition, including some 70 who are intubated.
The death toll also continues to rise. At press time, there were 409 people dead. Some 50 people died last week.
“We are fighting a plague, and we must all fight together,” committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton said. “Everyone has the good intentions of fighting the virus, and we are all on the same side. But we are allowed to argue about the ways to fight. The pandemic has many consequences – health, social and economic – and it is necessary to bring the delicate balance between them.”
At the meeting, Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, stressed that some of the government’s decisions did not seem rooted in epidemiological logic, especially the decision to close down beaches. He said it lacked basis, as the risk of catching coronavirus in open spaces is much lower than in closed spaces.
However, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch noted that the problem at the beaches and pools is not the open area but the crowds, and the same is true in restaurants. He promised to look for an outline that would allow the opening of the beaches.
Kisch stressed that most patients do not know where they were infected, and the data is marginal but needs to look at the trend. And the trend is an increase in morbidity.
“We are in the midst of a mega-event,” he said. “If we don’t stop now, in another week or two, we will definitely require a full lockdown.”