Edelstein says Israel could face total corona lockdown within four days

New restrictions expected within 48 hours • Nurses to strike on Monday

YULI EDELSTEIN. Was it his job to hold up Knesset proceedings – even if he had the legal authority to do so – to facilitate unity talks?  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
YULI EDELSTEIN. Was it his job to hold up Knesset proceedings – even if he had the legal authority to do so – to facilitate unity talks?
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Due to the continued rise in coronavirus cases, Israel will roll out new restrictions within the next two days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
“I ordered that more steps will be taken within the next 48 hours to help flatten the curve,” the prime minister said. “We made quick and good decisions in the first wave that led us to be in an excellent situation. Now, we need to take determined steps to get back there and be even more successful.”
Among the new potential directives: gatherings capped at 10 people, closing beachfronts, synagogues and yeshivot, reducing public transportation, allowing restaurants only to open for delivery and determining if shopping centers and stores can be open based on their risk of infection.
Workplaces would continue as usual.
Netanyahu admitted Wednesday night that the government made a mistake in the way it opened: “The opening of the banquet halls and large gatherings ... these things lead to a disaster and raise the level of morbidity,” he said. “So, our guidelines will be very strict about gatherings.”
The expected plan was shared by Israeli media on the backdrop of a briefing Wednesday by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who said that the country could have to take steps toward a closure within the next three or four days if the coronavirus does not stop spreading.
“If we can take steps before the closure, we will not get there, if we sit idly by in the coming days, reality will bring us to a closure,” he said following a tour of Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem. “I think we have three or four days left to see if there is any result to those minimal steps – much less than we wanted. If a medical miracle happens to us and we see a change in trend, then maybe we won’t get” to a closure either.
“I say this in a simple way: From my first day in office I said and did everything not to allow us to get to a general closure,” he continued. “Whenever there is any restriction, a broad public protest against that restriction begins. We must understand once and for all: if no additional tools are available to us, we will eventually have a total lockdown.”
Some 1,580 people were diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday, the Health Ministry said Wednesday. Some 31,392 people were tested, making the infection rate 5%.
Furthermore, the number of serious patients reached 205 by 7 p.m. on Wednesday, a day in which 1,055 tested positive between midnight and press time. There were 23,399 active patients at press time. Some 375 people have died.
Among those newly diagnosed with coronavirus: an individual who was protesting the economic crisis at Rabin Square on Saturday night, the Health Ministry reported Wednesday.
The patient was at the square from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., at the same time as thousands of other protesters.
As a result, another protest planned for this coming Saturday night is in jeopardy due to a conflict between the organizers and police.
Police said that the protest cannot be held at Rabin Square since social distancing measures could not be maintained in the space if the expected number of participants attend.
The police suggested an alternate location – Ganei Yehoshua at Park Hayarkon, but the organizers have rejected the offer, stressing that police cannot tell citizens where they can protest.
During the previous protests, participants did not follow the Health Ministry’s directives.
Who should manage the growing crisis?
In an interview with N12, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that to stop the lockdown, the government must transfer the authority to manage the coronavirus to his office.
“I think we need to give the Defense Ministry the ability to lead the campaign operationally in the field because only we have the ability to help civilians,” Gantz told N12. “What did we do yesterday in Beit Shemesh? What are we doing today in Kiryat Malachi?”
“This is what we know how to do best – better than any other body,” Gantz continued. “We are the largest system in the country that knows how to manage the most complex systems in the country... I will continue to push it until it happens.”
But Edelstein said that he feels otherwise. While at Hadassah, he referred to Gantz’s demand to transfer powers from the Health Ministry to the defense establishment.
“Unfortunately, I have been hearing in recent days a question that just makes me smirk,” Edelstein said. “Who is in charge? Who is running the event?
“I want to tell you in the simplest and clearest way: I am responsible for this event, I have the authority, and I take all the responsibility,” he continued.
He said that he and director-general Chezy Levy are working in close cooperation with the Home Front Command, National Security Council, the IDF, other ministries and the prime minister. Nonetheless, “the responsibility remains mine, that of my director-general and the staff of the Health Ministry. That is how we see it.
“I do not have time for politics,” he concluded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting on Tuesday of a new “coronavirus advisory committee” that included former Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov. Israeli media reported that the prime minister had asked Bar Siman Tov to serve as the manager of this second wave of the virus, but the former director-general refused.
Rather, it is expected that Maj.-Gen. Amir Abulafia could take over an expected “emergency management authority” that would be run by the IDF and overseen by the Health Ministry.
The Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that the number of coronavirus hotels has increased to 20 to help accommodate the growing number of patients – 15 for people recovering from coronavirus and another five for those who need to isolate. In total, some 4,301 people can be accommodated at the same time.
Also, the Defense Ministry announced a NIS 25,000 aid package to help support communities under lockdown.
For the cities of Lod and Kiryat Malachi, food baskets will be put together and then distributed to residents by the Home Front Command. Additionally, NIS 150,000 will be allocated to the municipalities to help inform residents about the option to evacuate to a coronavirus hotel.
The IDF and the Home Front Command will set up buses to help transport people directly from their homes to the hotels.
The aid package is like one that the ministry provided Beit Shemesh just 48 hours before.
In the meantime, the health system is beginning to crumble.
The National Association of Nurses said it will go on strike on Monday if the Finance and Health ministries do not find a way to support the public health system.
“The Association of Nurses hereby announces that as of July 20, 2020, it will launch an emergency strike,” chairwoman Ilana Cohen wrote in a letter to the directors of the health funds and the Health Ministry. They said the strike is “out of national responsibility and in order to stop the collapse of the nursing system and save lives.”
She said that “the Finance Ministry is not doing enough to put human life and public health at the top of its priorities, and therefore, unfortunately, we have no choice but to take organizational measures before having to deal with immoral and inhumane decisions.
“We nurses have decided to take action and take all legal measures at our disposal to prevent injury and loss of life, to stop the deterioration [of the health system] at the hands of coronavirus and to prevent the expected ‘Yom Kippur’ of the public health system.”
Edelstein said that he and Levy will meet with Finance Minister Israel Katz on Thursday.
Anna Ahronheim and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.