Health Ministry concerned over coronavirus spike ahead of Yom Kippur

More than 8,000 cases diagnosed in a single day

A synagogue is set up for Yom Kippur services, during Israel's second coronavirus lockdown, September 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A synagogue is set up for Yom Kippur services, during Israel's second coronavirus lockdown, September 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The Health Ministry has expressed concern that Yom Kippur, which starts tonight at sundown, could lead to a sharp rise in infection, as the number of new daily coronavirus cases skyrocketed in recent days – in part because of gatherings on Rosh Hashanah.
The Health Ministry reported Saturday that 8,315 new cases were diagnosed the day before, out of 62,035 people screened for coronavirus, which is a 13.4% positive rate.
On Sunday morning, it showed another 5,855 were diagnosed on Saturday - 12,6% of those screened.
Some 749 people were in serious condition, including 196 on ventilators – a peak. The death toll stood at 1,450.
Hospitals have said that if the number of serious cases tops 800, they might not be able to provide optimal care to all of their patients.
According to statistics confirmed by The Jerusalem Post, around 25% of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) who were concerned they might have coronavirus and were screened tested positive, and this is likely only the beginning results of the Rosh Hashanah prayers and other gatherings.
It was revealed on Friday that some 400 Jerusalem yeshiva students who had attended Rosh Hashanah prayers together were infected. The students – married and single – were transferred to three coronavirus hotels throughout the country. Late Saturday, a reporter for the haredi website Kikar Shabbat tweeted: "Drama in the Yeshiva world... At the Hemed Yeshiva, the entire Torah staff is infected, plus 100 students. Orchot Torah 200 patients. Landa Yeshiva 80 patients. Shachar Sachir [in Netivot] 70 patients... The hotels are crowded, and the yeshivas will have to find a solution for the sick and the isolated."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called upon Israelis not to go to synagogues for Sunday night’s Yom Kippur holiday to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“As the prime minister of Israel, who goes to synagogue to pray every Yom Kippur, I am asking you citizens of Israel not to go to synagogue this year,” he said in a video he released on Saturday night. “Pray outside and protect yourselves.”
Netanyahu said that the lockdown was difficult but there was “no choice.”
He admitted his government had made mistakes, including opening wedding halls too early and perhaps starting the school year on time.
Rabbis throughout the religious sector have called on their constituents not to pray inside, but there is real concern by the Health Ministry that many of the hassidic sects will not listen to the guidelines and there will be an even greater outbreak a week to 12 days after the fast.
A source close to the situation said that politicians are talking with the hassidic rabbis to encourage them to listen, despite the tens of thousands of protesters on Saturday night.
“I call on the citizens of Israel: Do not take an example from the demonstrators tonight,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Saturday night. He said the protesters took advantage of the delay in the Knesset “to harm their health and the health of those around them. With God’s help on Tuesday, we will pass the legislation and the demonstrations will be limited.
“We are on the eve of Yom Kippur. Let’s take care of each other, follow the closure guidelines,” he concluded.
Not only do religious people attend services on Yom Kippur, but also much of the rest of the country, which could increase gatherings.
The Health Ministry has warned that people who are praying outside are also susceptible to the coronavirus if they are close to one another and do not wear masks.
The Health Ministry is hoping not to reduce the number of people screened on the holy day – more than 60,000 people have been tested per day in recent days – and plans to test more in the Arab sector. Around 10%-15% of all Arabs screened are testing positive.
The nationwide closure went into effect on Friday at 2 p.m. and with it a long list of restrictions, many that the country has seen before. These include not allowing people to travel more than 1,000 m. from their homes, forbidding gatherings – except for prayers, in groups of 20 people and in open spaces – and shuttering stores – except for those that sell essential products.
Public transportation has been reduced for the duration of the lockdown. The guidelines for public transport and Ben-Gurion Airport were released by the Transportation Ministry on Friday.
Public transportation will operate in a limited format, mainly to allow essential and approved workers to get to and from their jobs.
Ben-Gurion Airport will be open for flights, but only those people who purchased tickets before the closure will be allowed to travel.
Upon arrival at the airport, travelers will be asked to present documentation of the date of purchase of their ticket, a valid ticket and possibly a negative coronavirus test, depending on their destination.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev called the plan “balanced” and meant to preserve “social solidarity... at such a complex time.”
Moreover, despite the initial intention to greatly reduce activity in the private sector, the government did decide on Friday morning to approve work in many more industries, according to the recommendation of the Finance Ministry.
Among the sectors that can now operate are companies engaged in construction work, security, technology or finance; factories that provide essential services; institutions of higher education; drainage authorities; and ports.
The National Insurance Institute, youth-at-risk programs and local authorities, welfare and support services will also be allowed to operate, as will research laboratories that require physical attendance.
Additionally, people can go to their place of work to check up on it and ensure it is maintained. As was previously discussed, those who sell products related to Yom Kippur or Sukkot can operate as well.
The Knesset Finance Committee met and approved in the first reading an amendment to the Economic Assistance Program that would help facilitate the allocation of grants to businesses and provide their owners with advance compensation for the months in which their businesses are harmed by coronavirus directives.
The second and third readings of the amendment are expected to take place on Tuesday.
Police set up dozens of roadblocks across the country and stopped hundreds of cars in an effort to enforce the country’s second lockdown. Police operated on all major thoroughfares and also in neighborhoods, moshavim and kibbutzim.
On Saturday, police said they had handed out 3,351 tickets to people for breaking Health Ministry directives the day before. These included 236 to people for breaking isolation, 937 for not wearing a mask and several hundreds to businesses for operating against regulations, among other things.
“The public needs to understand that leaving the house unnecessarily is life-threatening,” said the head of the police investigation division, Deputy Superintendent Ziv Sagiv, in an interview with KAN News on Friday. “We are at war.”
He added that “Yom Kippur does not atone for the transgressions of a person to his friend. There is no point in going to pray when you are endangering the lives of others.”
Police said that thousands of police officers, Border Police officers and IDF soldiers will work together to ensure proper enforcement across the country through the duration of the closure. Police officers will be deployed at all major thoroughfares, at the entrances to cities and will be checking travelers to ensure they are keeping the rules. Police helicopters will also monitor the streets for any unusual violations.
The government approved the allocation of an additional 500 soldiers to reinforce the Israel Police for this task on Friday, so that the total number of soldiers stood at 1,500 soldiers. It was agreed that this number could be increased by up to another 500 with the consent of the Defense and Internal Security ministers.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.