Gamzu: Time to consider easing restrictions on stores, schools, skies

New coronavirus ‘round tables’ to be held * Stores defy directive, remain open on Shabbat * Parks, beaches packed * Death toll tops 520

Ichilov director-general Ronni Gamzu. (photo credit: MIRI GATTENYO/ICHILOV SPOKESPERSON'S OFFICE)
Ichilov director-general Ronni Gamzu.
Stores could be open next weekend, the skies by mid-August and schools on September 1, as Israel’s new coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu – or as he likes to be known, “director of the Shield of Israel program” – leads a new coronavirus decision-making process.
The Health Ministry announced Friday that Israel will soon have a uniform procedure for determining when and how to establish restrictions at places of work, cultural events and even synagogues. The plan will begin to be formulated by Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy and Gamzu, along with the relevant parties from the various government ministries, at the start of this week.
According to the Health Ministry, “round tables” will be convened and relevant parties will meet as often as three times a week to make decisions effectively and coherently about restrictions.
Among the discussions expected to happen this coming week: Opening schools and the skies. In an interview with N12’s Dana Weiss, Gamzu said that opening schools is a “complicated question,” but one that he plans to deeply investigate in the coming week with hopes that “we will have a decision by the end of the week.”
Last week, Gamzu said in a separate interview that he believed schools could open by September 1.
Also, he said there will be discussions about opening the skies by mid-August, at least for visitors from green states and maybe to travelers from additional locations, as well.
First on the agenda, however, will likely be removing weekend restrictions on stores and malls.
“I have received many requests in recent days regarding changes in restrictions,” Gamzu said in a statement shortly before Shabbat. “These requests – for the most part – are correct and justified, based on the real distress” in which people find themselves. “At the same time... the necessary corrections or changes cannot be realized through hasty or rash decisions. Providing the Israeli public with a correct, professional and appropriate response requires consideration, an examination of alternatives and an orderly presentation of those decisions to the public – one that is transparent.”
He asked the public to be patient, to work with him collaboratively.
“I am convinced that only in this way will we be able to quickly embark on the royal path in the fight against the epidemic,” he said.
Despite Gamzu’s heart-felt plea on Friday afternoon, many stores opened on Saturday in defiance of the government’s failure to lift restrictions on them before the weekend, when they make a hefty portion of their profits.
Among those, The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew sister paper Ma’ariv reported, was Bilu Center Mall in Kiryat Ekron, near Rehovot. Police officers arrived at the scene, ordered the managers or people in charge to close, but in general did not issue any fines.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Levy and Gamzu had agreed on Thursday that the weekend closure of stores and malls should be lifted before Saturday, but they could not get buy-ins from all ministers and therefore no change was made and it was decided to push off making any decisions until the next coronavirus cabinet meeting on Monday.
Also, on Saturday, the Kinneret Towns Association reported that more than 45,000 people visited beaches over Shabbat. At one point on Saturday, it had to close entry because of congestion on all but one beach.
The Israel Police, in cooperation with the Sea of Galilee Authority’s inspectors, increased enforcement to ensure Health Ministry directives were followed, in addition to standard safety protocols.
Likewise, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, reported that some 70,000 people visited the country’s national parks and trails.
Palmahim National Park was fully occupied Saturday and forced to turn people away.
In total, the police issued 1,905 tickets over the weekend, mostly for people not wearing masks in public spaces.
In the interview with Weiss, Gamzu admitted that mistakes had been made, that incoherent and illogical restrictions had been put into place, which caused the public to disconnect from its leaders.
“We did not succeed,” he said. “But when we say we failed – that is all of us. We did not prepare well enough. We did not use all the tools at our disposal. The Health Ministry thought it could investigate everyone. It didn’t.”
Gamzu’s new methodology is coming at the same time as reports that Israel is gaining control of coronavirus.
On Saturday night, the Health Ministry reported that Israel surpassed 72,000 patients since the start of the pandemic and reported that more than 500 were dead.
Specifically, according to the ministry’s post-Shabbat report, there were 1,358 people diagnosed with the novel virus on Friday.
The total number of people infected with the virus stands at 72,218 among them 26,590 active patients.
There were 328 patients in serious condition on Saturday night, including 96 who were intubated.
More than 10 people died over the weekend, bringing the death toll to 526.
Jerusalem Affairs Minister MK Rafi Peretz tested positive for coronavirus. He entered quarantine three days ago after his director-general, Avi Cohen, tested positive for the virus. In addition, three other MKs – Avi Dichter, Osnat Hila Mark and Eli Cohen – are in isolation after coming in contact with a known coronavirus patient.
Gamzu told Weiss that, “right now the situation is manageable in terms of the number of sick and the number of seriously ill.” When asked to rank the situation on a scale of one to 10, he said it is a seven.
He said the country is at a turning point – either the infection rate can increase or retract.
“We are starting to have some breathing room – slowly, slowly,” he said. “This is the time to open. This is the time to ease restrictions. This is the time to get back our income.”
On Thursday, a report by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem predicted that at least another 200 people will die of coronavirus within the next three weeks. At the same time, according to their model, Israel has “gained control” of the pandemic and has started to flatten the curve.