Netanyahu: Closure saved Israel from astronomical morbidity, mortality

Infection rate continues to drop • Shasha-Biton: ‘open up now’

Mea Shearim, Jerusalem during coronavirus pandemic (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Mea Shearim, Jerusalem during coronavirus pandemic
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked-off a meeting with top ministers and health officials ahead of Tuesday's coronavirus cabinet meeting that will discuss the country's exit strategy. 
He said non-customer-facing businesses would be able to allow up to 10 people to work from the office and that preschools would resume, "but we will do this and other stages gradually, carefully and with clear metrics for transition from stage to stage."
He added that "The closure was necessary. It saved us from an astronomical rise in morbidity, mortality, critically ill. And yet, it is too early to congratulate ourselves."
He said that while there are the first signs of success, the experts needs a few more days to examine the data.
"While morbidity is soaring in Europe, by us it is declining," he said. 

At the meeting on Sunday are Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Finance Minister Israel Katz, Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay and coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu.
Last week, Gazmu and the Health Ministry presented a nine-stage plan that would begin when there are around 2,000 new sick patients per day and a reproduction rate of less than one. Most of the plan is understood and accepted by ministers at this stage, but not all.
For example, it is possible that Israel will not be at 2,000 patients by Sunday, but slightly more. If so, KAN News reported, the Health Ministry has said it would be willing to open preschools anyway, so long as the morbidity rate is still in decline and teachers take serological tests before returning to their classrooms. Gamzu, who is technically employed by the ministry, does not agree with this position.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant said he plans to push to ensure that these schools open and other grades faster than outlined. He said he will bring with him to the meeting on Tuesday statistics that show that in non-haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools, the infection rate is low. 
According to numbers he prepared last week in conjunction with the Health Ministry, 51% of infected students were from the haredi sector. Non-haredi schools throughout the country had only between 3% and 9% of school infections. A report on Channel 12 showed that out of 510 schools, only 138 general or non-Jewish schools had infection. Some 372 haredi schools, on the other hand, had sick students.
At the same time, Gallant has said he would be willing to break up classrooms of preschoolers through second grade into smaller pods if that would push them to open faster. Such a move would cost billions of shekels and the Finance Ministry is unlikely to support it. 
KNESSET CORONAVIRUS Committee chairwoman MK Yifat Shasha-Biton has called on the government to open up now and close only those areas with high infection.
“We need to open up now, not in a week,” she said in an interview Sunday morning with Army Radio. “There are restrictions that everyone knows have no epidemiological logic. Why wait? Society is crashing."
She then called on the government to focus on red zones. She said the government slapped a national closure across the country “for many reasons, some of them political, and we need to return to differential treatment.”
“We need to talk about hotspots,” she said. “Not at the level of settlements, but at the level of regions.”
Over the weekend, Gamzu told Channel 12 that there is a decline in morbidity and that the country could see a first stage of reduced restrictions as early as this week. However, he added that there could be 10 to 15 “red” cities or neighborhoods that would not open up with the rest of the country. Currently, there are still 14 cities that meet Gamzu’s red-zone criteria that were laid out in September as part of his “traffic light” program.
Those cities, currently, are Ashdod, Bnei Brak, Elad, Hadera, Lod, Modi’in Illit, Netanya, Netivot, Ramle, Rechasim, Rehovot and some neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem. Of course, as the infection rate drops, their designation could change.
But on Sunday morning, MK Yaakov Asher, chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, said that “If there is no clear plan, there will be no closure on red cities.”
He asked how people in those cities would go to work, not be fired from their jobs, and receive medical care out of their zone. 
“Professionals cannot just ignite traffic lights,” Asher said. “They need to give an operational plan of action by which the state can run.”
Regardless of what decisions are made on Tuesday, one thing is certain: The closure is starting to work.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported that only 887 people were diagnosed with coronavirus on Saturday. However, there were also only 13,387 people screened - the lowest number per day since the start of the second wave. It is also the lowest percentage positive, at 6.6%.
There were 825 people in serious condition, including 214 who were intubated. The death toll stands at 1,941.