Coronavirus cabinet votes in favor of night curfew

There were 1,352 new cases diagnosed on Sunday, the Health Ministry reported Monday - 3.2% of those who were screened tested positive.

Police are seen setting up a checkpoint for drivers, during Israel's second lockdown, September 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Police are seen setting up a checkpoint for drivers, during Israel's second lockdown, September 2020.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel is heading toward a night curfew beginning on Wednesday, after the coronavirus cabinet approved the move late Monday night.
The government is expected to ratify the decision on Tuesday, including the details of the curfew. This will include its start and end dates, what time in the evening it will begin and what time in the morning it will be lifted, as well as any other restrictions that will be involved.
What is confirmed is that essential services will remain open during the curfew.
In addition, the cabinet approved keeping malls and marketplaces open in accordance with the rules of the pilot – except in red cities – and maintaining the education system. The cabinet also approved the continuation of the “green islands” program in Eilat and the Dead Sea.
“I am pleased to announce that the coronavirus cabinet today approved the continuation of the outline of green tourist islands in Eilat and the Dead Sea, after I presented data on its success,” said Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen. “It is a balanced and special plan that allows us to live alongside the coronavirus and that provides a livelihood for thousands of workers.”
Careful, limited activity in the country’s museums and at cultural events will be allowed, in accordance with agreements made between the Health and Culture and Sport ministries.
In addition, coronavirus testing will be required for all people who return to the country from abroad, and especially for those arriving from red countries. Anyone who is not tested will be required to enter a coronavirus hotel.
Also, public transportation occupancy will be reduced, though the announcement released by the Prime Minister’s Office following the meeting did not indicate by how much. Steps will also be taken to increase fines and step-up enforcement.
“These are all just excuses that will have little effect,” a top professional at the meeting told The Jerusalem Post after the cabinet voted to implement this plan. “They are aimed at justifying opening malls, markets, museums and culture events. The government has decided to relieve major restrictions, which will fuel the current outbreak and lead to the next lockdown.”
The idea of a night curfew was rolled out by Meir Ben-Shabbat, head of the National Security Council (NSC), and supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Interior Minister Arye Deri refused to participate in the cabinet vote on the curfew because all its details had not been panned out, saying that voting in favor would make him a “rubber stamp.”
THE NIGHT curfew is the first phase of a three-phase plan rolled out by the NSC. If approved by the government, it is expected to last around three weeks.
The second and third phases would only be implemented if necessary, if infection continues rising.
The second phase would involve a “tightening of restrictions” and would likely include shuttering all customer-facing businesses, similar to the plan presented Sunday by coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash.
A final phase would be a total, national lockdown.
The coronavirus cabinet meeting began on Monday against the backdrop of another day of high and increasing infection.
“If we do not act correctly, right at the time when we see the end [of the tunnel], people are likely to get sick and die when it could have been prevented. Netanyahu said ahead of the meeting. “Morbidity is on the rise, and we do not want to wait for another spike that will be difficult to stop. That is why we want to convene the coronavirus cabinet today and make the right, firm, non-populist decisions that limit the restrictions, both in scope and time period.”
Earlier in the day, he spoke during a visit to Aleph Farms, saying, “I said yesterday that I will not hesitate to add restrictions or bring back restrictions.”
THE NUMBERS had already made clear to the ministers and health officials that some action would need to be taken.
There were 1,352 new cases diagnosed on Sunday, the Health Ministry reported Monday, with 3.2% of those who were screened testing positive. Another 1,204 were diagnosed between midnight and press time. The death toll is inching closer to 3,000 and stood at 2,924 on Monday night.
The number of seriously ill patients is also on the rise at 333, including 89 who were intubated.
The reproduction rate (R) stood at 1.24, meaning that every four infected people will infect another five.
“There are no more excuses that the morbidity is rising only among the Arabs or the ultra-Orthodox,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said during an interview with the Knesset Channel on Monday afternoon. “The morbidity is rising everywhere in the country.”
A report by the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center recommended that the government consider reinstating some restrictions to help curtail the spread of the virus.
The Health Ministry entered the meeting calling for an immediate stop to all commercial activity and closing all grade levels in red and orange cities. But then Ben-Shabbat presented his plan.
Ash immediately objected to the idea of starting with a night curfew. He contended – in line with health professionals’ opinions up until now – that the effectiveness of a night curfew is unknown.
Ash said that such a curfew would bring the country to the phase of tightened restrictions and an eventual lockdown.
“The NSC’s plan is like saying that on the 2nd of January we are going to a complete closure,” Ash said.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi backed up Ash: “There is an unbearable gap between the decisions made by the cabinet and the situation on the ground.”
So did the head of Public Health Sharon Alroy-Preis. She said that “the numbers are not yet catastrophic. Tightening restrictions could reduce the numbers.” She said that if the government waited too long to take action, tightening restrictions would be ineffective.
But Finance Minister Israel Katz supported Ben-Shabbat: “We are in favor of a night curfew starting immediately.”
ANOTHER TOPIC of discussion was commerce, which it was decided would remain open, at least during this first phase, despite opposition by the Health Ministry.
Edelstein addressed the situation with the malls during his interview with the Knesset channel. He said that “in most [shopping centers], the guidelines were not followed. There were dozens of people inside stores.”
He admitted that the situation has improved since Black Friday, when images of people swarming the shopping centers and packed together in lines graced social media. But he said that “to open 250 malls now, with the current state of morbidity, would be irresponsible.”
However, at the meeting, Economy Minister Amir Peretz continued pushing to keep commerce going.
“Closing down trade means increasing unemployment,” he said. “It is imperative to keep trade open while introducing new restrictions.”
He added that “it is not possible that we started a pilot, it worked well and now the malls are told that they will still have to close – even though the pilot was a success, even though they followed the rules, and even though it has been proven not to be linked to infection.”
There was strong opposition among many politicians to the idea of a closure at any phase.
Finance Ministry acting director-general Eran Yaakov said, “We have not completed the second closure. There are still hotels and malls that are closed. Trade is mostly closed. Culture and restaurants are closed. This has great economic significance and is not a trivial matter.
“The cost of closing trade is NIS 5.6 billion a month and it will add 100,000 unemployed,” he said. “This is a significant price. Remember that it is added to half a million unemployed people today.”
While Health Ministry officials prepared for the evening cabinet meeting, they did not appear at a meeting of the Knesset Coronavirus Committee run by MK Yifat Shasha-Biton in the morning, which led her to cancel it.
She waited 20 minutes for the ministry to “appoint a senior representative” to attend the debate. When neither Alroy-Preis nor Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy appeared, she called it off.
However, the ministry reacted by saying that, “contrary to the allegations made, two representatives of the ministry relevant to the subject of the discussion, Dr. Arik Haas and Mr. Avichai Segev, arrived at the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee meeting. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to speak.”
Shasha-Biton charged that Alroy-Preis and other senior officials in the Health Ministry are “sitting and thinking about how to re-close the State of Israel. This is not worrying about public health.”
She added that these officials are “narrowly looking at the health sector only through the eyes of the coronavirus and lack the courage or ability to properly address the coronavirus crisis as a whole… We expect the Health Ministry to appoint a representative who can come and look into the eyes of all the people who have come here.”
Both Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz addressed vaccination on Monday, as well, with Gantz accusing the prime minister of turning vaccination into a public relations campaign, which he called “wrong and misleading.”
“We are at a war for human life,” Gantz said. “It will continue and it will not be resolved quickly with nine million vaccines.”
Netanyahu maintained that “the vaccines are on their way. We see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hannah Brown and Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.