Coronavirus cabinet to consider new restrictions

Infectious disease head: Israel 'about to lose control' of pandemic

Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet Monday to decide on a set of new coronavirus restrictions on the public after a two-hour meeting on Sunday left the country with no answers.
“We are in the beginning of the second coronavirus wave,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Sunday evening at a press conference, hours after the cabinet meeting ended. “From today, Sunday, I decided not to be the most conservative person and to make all the decisions considering both the health and economic needs of the country. I worked in conjunction with all the relevant ministers to open the event halls, cultural events, public transportation and more. But I always emphasized that if we will not carefully maintain all the guidelines it will lead to things being closed.”
He said that “not enough people listened” and even though he “led steps to increase enforcement” the virus has continued to spread.
“Whoever does not listen to the directives causes damage not only to himself but everyone around him, and he could do damage to the entire economy,” Edelstein stressed.
Now, he continued, the goal must be “to maximize benefit and minimize damage.”
The Health Ministry brought a series of recommendations to the coronavirus cabinet on Sunday, he said: limiting social gatherings to 20 people, events to 50 people and cultural events to 250 people; running summer camps in capsules; allowing prayer only in open spaces and with up to 19 people; and canceling any conferences or exhibitions.
The Health Ministry’s proposal was met with fury, despite the rise in infection, according to Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, who spoke Sunday after Edelstein.
According to the Health Ministry, 218 Israelis were diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 within the last day. There have been 23,639 people diagnosed with the virus since the start of the pandemic, and there are currently 6,265 active cases, among them 39 in serious condition. Some 318 people have died.
“The ministers were furious about the intention of backtracking on the economy,” Levy said.
Indeed, leaks from the meeting painted such a picture.
“I am opposed to measures that will harm the economy,” Finance Minister Israel Katz said, “we need to focus on stepping up enforcement.”
Education Minister and Cabinet member Yoav Gallant attacked the intention to run camps in capsules, saying that, “I serve the country by allowing one million children to be responsibly supervised while their parents go to work.”
There are 999 students and teachers infected with the novel coronavirus, the Education Ministry reported on Sunday, and 23,427 in isolation. Some 259 schools are closed.
And Interior Minister Arye Deri went so far as to recommend the government take no additional measures to stop the spread of the virus. “We need to learn to live with the virus,” he said, “your requests are exaggerated.”
But Edelstein told the ministers that they could not “just say no but offer [no] alternatives. It is not wise just to say no,” he said, sentiments that he repeated later at his presser.
“There has been a populist contest of who will do more to mock the need to be careful of the coronavirus,” he told the press. “There were those who said we should not be worried about the numbers. There were those who accused me of creating hysteria. It is easier to create populist discourse to score points. It is easy, but dangerous.”
He said that he charged the ministers to come up with another plan if they did not accept his, not simply to criticize but to also offer alternatives.
“There is one thing I cannot accept. I hear those with the approach: ‘Why are you creating panic?’ ‘So, a number of elderly people will die.’
“Anyone who even thinks this deep in his heart should think about his grandfather and grandmother being among these old people,” he concluded. “We dreamed of hugging our grandfather and grandmother, we dreamed of going abroad. It is not impossible. If we follow the directives and are careful these things that now seem like a faraway dream can become reality.”
Edelstein’s comments came only hours after a harsh letter was sent to the Health Ministry by head of the Israeli Society for Infectious Diseases, Miri Weinberger, who warned that Israel is “about to lose control” of the coronavirus pandemic, and that “we are close to the point of no return where there will be mass infection and burdens of severely ill patients.”
She added that, “Over the past two weeks, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of daily infections of the coronavirus. In recent days, there has also been a rise in the ages of those diagnosed and hospitalized.”
Health ministry data showed that the positive testing rate hit a new record of 4% over the weekend. For the past three weeks, the ministry has screened fewer patients over Shabbat, but more of those screened have tested positive. On Saturday, 10,489 people were screened.
Levy said Sunday that, “we have increased the number of tests, but the percentage that tests positive has reached around 3%.”
Moreover, the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center released a report on Sunday showing that it is taking around eight days to double the number of new daily patients and that the daily average growth rate is inching toward 10%.