Edelstein: Knesset is leading us to coronavirus lockdown

Gov’t to name Barbash as coronavirus czar • Health officials expect 1,000 serious patients within three weeks • Defense Ministry opens two new ‘coronavirus hotels’

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visits Rambam Medical Center's new coronavirus unit on July 21, 2020 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visits Rambam Medical Center's new coronavirus unit on July 21, 2020
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The country is heading toward a complete lockdown, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday. Hospital services could break down within the next three weeks, senior health experts predicted.
Nevertheless, the Knesset voted to overturn the government’s restrictions on restaurants.
Also, at long last, it seems the country could have a coronavirus czar.
“The conduct of the Knesset coronavirus committee will inevitably lead us to a complete lockdown,” Edelstein said at a press conference in Haifa following a visit to Rambam Health Care Campus’s new underground coronavirus unit.
He said he “does not know from where the optimism of some people who talk about the slowdown in the rate of infection comes from. The numbers are still very worrying.”
Meanwhile, 1,854 Israelis tested positive for coronavirus on Monday and another 1,203 between midnight and Tuesday night, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday as of press time. The number of serious patients was 256, including 77 who were intubated. Some 424 Israelis have died from the virus.
The number of serious patients could spike within the next two to three weeks, Health Ministry senior officials said. In 20 days, there could be 1,000 Israelis in serious condition, according to their models, while the health system could only provide optimal care to about 750 of them, they said.
“We are galloping into the abyss, where we cannot avoid reaching a state where intensive-care units will be at maximum occupancy, and doctors will have to decide who to ventilate and who to let die,” Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor emeritus Dov Schwartz said Tuesday. “Even if we immediately enact a full closure, we have about three weeks to stop the present situation… We have already burned up all of our reserves with political preoccupation, committees and endless discussions about restaurants, gyms, pools and mikvahs.”
His remarks came hours after the Knesset Coronavirus Committee pushed back against the government decision to limit restaurants to takeout and delivery.
The committee decided to allow restaurants to continue to operate according to the status quo. Seven committee members voted in favor, while three were opposed. Members of Blue and White abstained.
It became clear that the government was willing to open restaurants for outdoor seating only with up to 50 patrons at a time, committee chairwoman Yifat Shasha-Biton said Monday. The committee wanted to allow restaurants to operate inside seating, as well, at 25% to 35% occupancy, but the government would not budge.
“We need guidelines that the public can understand,” Shasha-Biton said. “The public is our key partner in the war against the virus… The committee recognizes the seriousness of its responsibility and believes in the importance of dialogue with the government.”
Coalition Chairman Mickey Zohar, who sits on the committee, said in response to the Knesset’s decision that it was “tainted by populism, which defeated common sense. I regret the dangerous decision, and we will act to correct it soon.”
Edelstein said the government was finding it difficult to pass minimal restrictions on the economy, which causes everyone to struggle.
“I understand the confusion that Israel’s citizens feel,” he said at Rambam Health Care Campus. “This is not due to the decisions of the Health Ministry. The confusion is created from the struggle between the government and the Knesset.”
Last Thursday at 2 a.m., the government announced that restaurants would close except for takeout and delivery. The next day at 4 p.m., the government said they could stay open until Tuesday at 5 a.m.
On Tuesday morning, they closed. By Tuesday afternoon, they were told they could open again.
The government is considering requesting a court order to limit the activity of restaurants and at the same time will try to get the Knesset to approve its directive on restaurants, bypassing the Coronavirus Committee.
Moreover, it is expected that the new coronavirus advisory board will meet on Thursday and potentially determine the need for a total lockdown.
This flip-flopping has also led the religious community to question the government’s directives.
Chief Rabbi David Lau called on the government to change its decision regarding worship in synagogues. The number of people allowed to pray in any given synagogue should be commensurate with its size, he said.
The government’s limit of 20 people in a prayer service was arbitrary, Lau said, adding that it was illogical that the same number of worshipers be permitted in both small and large synagogues.
Only “a small percentage of infections” have taken place in synagogues, based on recently released data that showed 4.8% of infections occurred in religious institutions, he said. With the approaching High Holy Days, it would be fitting to be more flexible, Lau said.
Late Tuesday, there were indications that Prof. Gabriel Barbash had been confirmed as the country’s coronavirus commissioner.
However, a formal announcement by the prime minister had not occurred by press time due to negotiations over certain aspects of his role, Israeli media reported.
It was unclear whether Barbash would report to Edelstein or the coronavirus cabinet, meaning the prime minister. It was also being determined how the new commissioner would work with newly appointed Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy.
It is assumed that Barbash would handle interactions with the Defense Ministry, the IDF and oversee testing and epidemiological tracking.
Barbash is a former CEO of Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv and served as director-general of the Health Ministry.
“Prof. Barbash will take on the role of commissioner and will be involved in many areas that require attention 24 hours a day,” Levy told KAN Radio Tuesday morning. “He is right now working with us, studying the subject and will get involved… An extra force like him can definitely give [the battle against coronavirus] a boost.”
Earlier this week, it was reported that Barbash had been selected by Netanyahu, but Edelstein preferred to appoint Maj.-Gen. Amir Abulafia. However, on Tuesday, “Maj.-Gen. Amir Abulafia informed the defense minister and the chief of staff... that he had withdrawn his candidacy to serve as the national project manager for the treatment of the coronavirus,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “The general wishes Prof. Barbash complete success.”
Medical professionals across the spectrum have praised the idea of appointing Barbash, who became associated with the coronavirus crisis through his near-nightly commentaries on N12, during which he sharply criticized the government.
“Gabi Barbash is the right candidate for the role,” said Hadassah-University Medical Center head Zeev Rotstein. “I would be committed to supporting Barbash in such a role.”
Prof. Dan Ben-David, founder and head of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research, said: “Prof. Barbash is one of Israel’s premier physicians with organizational background, having headed Ichilov Hospital and being director-general of the Health Ministry. I identify with the things that I have heard him say on the coronavirus, and from personal acquaintance, I know that his heart is in the right place.”
Since Edelstein announced more than two weeks ago that he intended to form a centralized authority to manage the coronavirus crisis, several people have been considered to head it, including former IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Gadi Eisenkot, Maj.-Gen. Roni Numa, Mossad head Yossi Cohen and former Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday announced his ministry would establish another two hotels as coronavirus quarantine centers for the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, in addition to the 11 that already exist.
“We are expanding the coronavirus hotels and making them accessible to the haredi community, as well as the general Israeli public, to accelerate the fight against coronavirus,” he said.
There are currently 4,000 people in isolation in quarantine hotels designated for haredim, whose religious requirements for Shabbat and kashrut have necessitated separate isolation facilities.