Coronavirus cabinet to meet Sunday as infection rate continues to climb

Netanyahu, Edelstein to push for tightening restrictions • Gantz says depends on morbidity, mortality rates and vaccination timeline

Sufganiyot, traditional treats for Hanukkah, are seen alongside Israelis walking in Jerusalem amid the coronavirus pandemic, on December 13, 2020. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Sufganiyot, traditional treats for Hanukkah, are seen alongside Israelis walking in Jerusalem amid the coronavirus pandemic, on December 13, 2020.
The vaccines are already arriving in Israel by the hundreds of thousands, but the country faces what could be a difficult period of tightened restrictions as coronavirus cases surge.
The coronavirus cabinet is scheduled to meet on Sunday at 11 a.m. to determine the next steps.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he supports a decision made last week that if cases surpass 2,500 a day, a period of “tightened restraint” would be rolled out. However, many ministers object and think differential measures should be taken rather than sweeping steps.
Some 2,802 people were infected with the virus on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported Thursday morning. This number surpasses the daily count of new cases that could put Israel into a period of restraint.
During such a period, shops, malls and marketplaces would be closed; gatherings would be limited to 10 people in closed spaces and 20 in open spaces; and the education system would stay open in green and yellow cities but would close in orange and red ones.
In addition, due to the challenges at Ben-Gurion Airport and how many infected returnees have been entering Israel, the Health Ministry is considering to recommend labeling all countries red. This would mean that any Israeli who enters Israel from abroad would have to isolate.
In addition, there is talk of requiring returnees from specific countries – including Ukraine, Turkey, the United States and maybe Dubai – to be required either to isolate in a state-run coronavirus hotel or agree to being tested.
According to the plan, these tightened restraints would last at least three weeks.
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz met Thursday with Blue and White coronavirus cabinet ministers and said his party’s position is that a vote in favor of tightened restraint would be based on morbidity and mortality rates as well as a further explanation of the timeline and scope of the country’s vaccination campaign.
“The scope of the vaccines and their expected impact on morbidity levels is a critical factor in making decisions that will affect the Israeli economy and the livelihoods of millions,” he said. “We will request all relevant information before convening the cabinet.”
Although the coronavirus cabinet voted last week for the plan, it still needs to be reapproved on Sunday to go into effect.
Between Wednesday and Thursday, several more Jerusalem neighborhoods went from being orange to red. At the same time, five more cities across the country became orange.
The number of people in serious condition is rising with the numbers: Some 400 patients were in serious condition Thursday morning, including 150 who were intubated. Some 3.4% of the more than 80,000 people screened for the virus tested positive.
At last count, the death toll was at 3,033.
Some health officials believe Israel will reach 5,000 daily cases – the number required for lockdown – by the time any new restrictions go into effect. As such, the National Security Council could recommend that Israel first have a short closure even before tightening restrictions, according to media reports.
Health Ministry deputy director-general Chezy Levy and Public Health Services head Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis entered quarantine Thursday morning after a member of their office tested positive.
Levy was already screened for the virus and tested negative. He does not have any symptoms and will continue to operate as usual from home.
Later in the day, the Likud’s faction manager in the Knesset, Aliza Barashi, tested positive for coronavirus, sending all employees of the faction into quarantine until epidemiological investigations are completed.
Barashi’s positive diagnosis was made following the unusual incident involving Likud MK David Bitan’s violation of Health Ministry guidelines, reported last week, that led some 30 employees and three MKs into quarantine. In response to criticism, Bitan said he did not know he was infected, even though he had coronavirus-related symptoms.
Bitan has been hospitalized since Sunday and has been in serious but stable condition since Monday, when Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and his family announced that he had been connected to an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine.