New record of 3,951 COVID-19 cases diagnosed as cabinet meets on closure

Death toll tops 1,050

Jerusalemites wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus  walk on Jaffa road in the City Center of Jerusalem on July 12, 2020. Israel has seen a spike of new COVID-19 cases,  cabinet ministers imposed new restrictions on public gatherings in a bid to stem the rising infection rate of the coronavirus (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Jerusalemites wearing face masks for fear of coronavirus walk on Jaffa road in the City Center of Jerusalem on July 12, 2020. Israel has seen a spike of new COVID-19 cases, cabinet ministers imposed new restrictions on public gatherings in a bid to stem the rising infection rate of the coronavirus
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
The High Holy Days are rapidly approaching, and neither the country nor its leaders are sure how they will be celebrated: in or out of lockdown.
The coronavirus cabinet will convene on Thursday to discuss the options, as the number of people infected with the virus continues to climb and hospitals say they are getting closer to breaking down.
Some 3,951 people were diagnosed with coronavirus on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported Thursday, setting a new record for the country. There were 487 people in serious condition, including 137 who were intubated. The death toll hit 1,055.
The plan that coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu and the ministry will present is still somewhat unclear, though it appears that from the perspective of health professionals, there are two options: a total lockdown such as the one the country underwent on Passover, or a “breathing” closure which would involve tightening restrictions but not completely shutting down.
The components of the Health Ministry’s plan are expected to include forbidding travel between cities; requiring people to eat meals with their immediate families or no more than 10 people; closing schools, retail establishments, restaurants and leisure activities; and scaling back at other places of business.
The Finance Ministry, however, presented an alternative to Gamzu on Wednesday, stating that it strongly opposes a lockdown.
According to the Finance Ministry, a general closure over a “holiday week” would cost the country NIS 4 billion, and a closure on a full week NIS 5 billion to NIS 6 billion.
Its proposal involves allowing the education system to operate as usual, as determined at the beginning of the school year, except in red cities. Workplaces would also continue to operate under Purple Ribbon standards. However, there would be significant reduction in retail activity in all cities.
The Finance Ministry said “there can be no total closure under any circumstances, as the damage will be enormous and it will be difficult to repair.”
Self-employed workers and small businesses held an emergency meeting on Wednesday, where it was determined that if they are not provided advance compensation, they would break any High Holy Day closure.
“We have lost faith in the government,” said Roi Cohen, president of LAHAV, the Israel Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses. He said another closure would bring economic disaster to the state, and that therefore businesses would not shut down.
Representatives from the culture, tourism, fashion, restaurant, fitness and other sectors were present at the meeting.
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu held a round of preliminary phone meetings about the situation ahead Thursday’s cabinet meeting with a number of his ministers and Gamzu.
The commissioner said on Tuesday that “the holiday season can increase infection, and that requires us to make complex decisions ahead of the holidays. We are working on that.”
But media reports said that Gamzu did not make clear on Wednesday specifically what he will present at the cabinet, and that he prefers to wait until the last minute to make a final decision about Rosh Hashanah.
It was agreed that the cabinet would examine designing a unique outline specifically for High Holy Day prayer services, which would need to be decided on earlier rather than later. This is because any outline that severely restricts gatherings would require the support of the local municipalities, which would have to find locations for so many prayer services and prepare them.
On Tuesday, some 40 cities and neighborhoods across Israel were put under night curfew to help curtail the spread of the virus.
However, on the first night, it appeared that many residents of these cities had no intention of following the rules.
A huge hassidic wedding was held in Haifa on Tuesday night for the granddaughter of a prominent rabbi. The wedding was attended by hundreds of people. They wore masks, but they did not keep social distance, and the large crowd broke Health Ministry guidelines.
Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism Party attended the event, though his representative said that he was present for only a few minutes at the event and called for directives to be observed.
Police reported that they shut down a huge party at a club in Haifa, as well. At that event, people were not even wearing masks and did not keep social distance.
Moreover, in several red cities it was reported that schools opened, despite their being shut down by the government.
In the Arab town of Nazareth, it was also business as usual. The mayor told Radio 104.5 FM, “I want to tell the world that it is safe to come to Nazareth, and that’s it.
“If you want to come and shut me down, come and shut me down,” he continued. “I place the responsibility on the government.... I will not let us completely collapse.”
The police said that they had given out 1,213 tickets for breaking Health Ministry regulations in the last 24 hours.
Interim Israel Police commissioner Motti Cohen instructed his officers to increase enforcement activity throughout Israel on Wednesday night, with a focus on red zones. He also reiterated that the cooperation of the public is necessary.
“The police reiterate that the cooperation of the public is necessary,” he said in a statement. “The public is expected to abide by the provisions of the law and obey the police, as only together will we be able to maintain the health of us all.”
Meanwhile, about 500 more IDF soldiers have joined the fight against coronavirus and will help support the police, the Defense Ministry said. These soldiers join about 4,000 who have already been enlisted for this purpose.
“We will only see the results of these weddings two weeks later,” Health Ministry director-general Hezi Levi said Wednesday night in an interview with N12.
Late Tuesday, Gamzu convened the heads of Israel’s largest hospitals for a meeting about the growing rate of infection. An insider told The Jerusalem Post that the heads of the hospitals are pushing for a closure, as the number of patients in serious condition continues to rise.
Nearly all of the hospitals are reporting heavy loads of patients, all beds being full, and a concern that they will be unable to care properly for their patients. Multiple top doctors and heads of hospitals have told the Post in recent days that without more trained staff before the winter, the system will break down.
Although the Health Ministry agreed to pay for additional nurses and doctors, hiring them has been a challenge for many of the institutions, the Post has learned.
Levi said that if a closure is enacted, then it would need to last at least three or four weeks, adding in his interview with N12 that “if we continue with this increase in sick people, we will not be able to manage.”
During an interview with the Hebrew website Ynet, Prof. Ran Blitzer said that “we have moved from a disturbing picture of high but stable morbidity to a more dangerous picture in which there is an increase in morbidity. This gives the hint that the time may be approaching for further steps, as we must not get to a place where the hospitals are full.”
He added that “in the winter, there will be flu patients who will take up [hospital] beds.... Reaching winter in this way is a risk to public health that decision-makers will have a hard time living with.”
But Hadassah head Prof. Zeev Rotstein told the Post he believes that blaming the hospitals for a lockdown is exaggerated.
“The medical system can hold on,” he argued, stating that regarding Hadassah, which is located in the heart of one of Israel’s reddest cities, “we are coping with everything.”
“The hospitals don’t need a closure, they are crying because [the sick] are overworking their teams,” he added. “Yes, indeed, we are working very, very hard. We have to work hard – this is war.”