Coronavirus cabinet to vote Monday on holiday lockdown

Commissioner recommends families travel no more than 500 meters from home on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur • Schools to close • Death toll nears 800

The coronavirus cabinet during a meeting on Wednesday (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The coronavirus cabinet during a meeting on Wednesday
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The coronavirus cabinet will convene next Monday to once again review and finalize a series of potential restrictions and closures meant to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, as more than 1,500 people have been diagnosed with the virus every weekday for the past month, and there are over 400 patients hospitalized in serious condition.
A meeting for that purpose was already held Thursday, but ended after several hours with no decisions being made because ministers clashed over the plans presented by coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu.
Nonetheless, shortly after the meeting ended, Gamzu expressed hope that next week would be better.
“Cabinet ministers expressed overwhelming support for the outlines I presented to them and for avoiding lockdown,” Gamzu said in a statement at the conclusion of the cabinet meeting.
During the meeting, he stressed that the majority of the public is cooperating with the restrictions and wants to return to routine.
However, he said that “an angry minority that crosses sectors ignores and belittles them, propelling the cycle of infection.”
The commissioner had been asked to provide alternatives to the ministers to achieve the goal of reducing the number of patients before the start of the winter flu season.
“Today, we hear the recommendations of coronavirus commissioner Prof. Gamzu,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the cabinet meeting. “There is much effort toward avoiding a lockdown so that we can continue rehabilitating the economy.”
Gamzu’s first plan has two phases, one that would begin immediately and run through September 10. During that time, the “traffic light” program would kick off, which would include closing schools in red cities, restricting flights to Uman and establishing an outline for prayer services during the month of Elul so as to avoid large gatherings.
The situation would then be reassessed on the 10th. If the “R” coefficient is greater than 1 – meaning that each infected person is infecting more than one other person – then stricter directives would be instituted that would run from Rosh Hashanah through the end of Sukkot on October 11.
These new, harsher restrictions would add travel restrictions in red cities. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, people would not be able to travel more than 500 meters from their homes and they would be asked to hold any holiday gatherings only with their nuclear families.
Prayer would only be allowed to take place outdoors. On specific days, stores, malls, markets and restaurants would be shut down and the education system would stop operating.
The goal would be to reduce the number of new daily coronavirus patients to around 400 within those few weeks. Gamzu has long said that this is the number necessary to ensure that the hospital system does not break down.
During the cabinet meeting a clash took place between Gamzu and the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) ministers. According to media reports, Housing and Construction Minister Ya’acov Litzman (UTJ) pushed back at the plan, asking, “Why can 500 people attend cultural events and at the same time synagogues are capped at 20? I cannot pray outside?”
He also accused Gamzu of picking and choosing where he places restrictions, “constantly hurting only the ultra-Orthodox.”
Gamzu’s second option, which is much harsher than the first, would launch on Rosh Hashanah and run for two or three weeks. Most restrictions would be implemented on a national level to attempt to reduce the number of daily infections even faster.
In this option, malls, markets, restaurants, events, concerts and tourist activities would all be closed. Schools would run only for up to third grade and special education. The public sector would operate on an emergency basis only and businesses would be asked to allow only 30% of workers to come to the office.
Red cities would still be harder struck, with a limit on traveling up to 500 meters from home, closing schools and halting nearly all public transportation.
The reason that the restrictions would be rolled out over the High Holy Days and Sukkot rather than immediately is in order to help keep the economy from crashing further.
The Finance Ministry said it would cost around NIS 3 billion to NIS 4 billion for each day of lock down on the High Holidays and NIS 5 billion to NIS 6 billion on a regular day. However, it was reported that Finance Minister Israel Katz opposes the closure of any businesses.
At the start of the meeting, Gamzu stressed the severity of the situation. He said that each day around 1,500 new people are being diagnosed with the virus, which translates to 40 new serious patients and about 10 to 15 deaths. He said there are now about 400 deaths per month.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry reported that there were 1,645 people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus the day before and another 868 between midnight and press time on Thursday. Some 389 people were in serious condition, including 114 who were intubated. So far, 795 people have died.
Furthermore, Gamzu called for the complete halt of any direct flights from Israel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, for fear of masses becoming infected, his office said. He reportedly wrote a letter to the President of Ukraine asking him to stop these flights, telling the government at the meeting that it should also instruct the Airports Authority to halt the flights.
“This is a real health risk,” he said.
The cabinet will reconvene on Monday with the aim of making final decisions.