Corona cabinet to meet today, consider opening more stores, night curfew

Health minister: ‘Nothing should be opened’

Shoppers line up at stores in Jerusalem as Israel continues the exit from the coronavirus lockdown, Nov. 10, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shoppers line up at stores in Jerusalem as Israel continues the exit from the coronavirus lockdown, Nov. 10, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ministers are considering opening up additional commerce and implementing a night curfew as the next stage in Israel’s lockdown exit strategy.
A meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, several top ministers and the head of the National Security Council ended inconclusively on Wednesday, as the country grapples with ways to manage the spread of coronavirus.
During the discussion, participants considered alternative ways to enable the further opening of commerce, returning of children to school and restricting areas with high infection.
Finance Minister Israel Katz, who has been pushing since the start of the exit strategy to open stores, said that malls and other establishments should be allowed to resume operation as originally planned – on Sunday, November 15. He agreed that if the malls could open, the country could impose a night curfew as suggested by the NSC from 10 pm to 5 am each day.
But Health Minister Yuli Edelstein stood firm and said that nothing more should be opened until the country reaches the necessary indices.
“If we have not reached the necessary reproduction rate, nothing should be opened,” Edelstein stressed.
Netanyahu straddled the positions of Katz, the NSC and Edelstein, recommending that commerce be allowed to operate in open spaces alongside a night curfew.
The concept of a night curfew was first raised by Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shay, though several health officials said at the time that night curfews are ineffective.
Shay proposed on Wednesday to increase the list of red cities that are locked down, as well as enforcements and fines.
“The infection rate is not good,” Shay said. “So, there are a number of ideas. We looked at what a number of countries are doing in Europe, who implemented partial or night closures, to understand the results there.”
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet on Thursday to further discuss the options.
Earlier in the day, the Education Ministry released its final proposal for opening schools for children through sixth grade, plus classes for students in grades 11 and 12. The proposal is also expected to be finalized by the cabinet.
The new plan would put first and second graders back into their classrooms without capsules five days per week for five hours each day. Third and fourth grades would learn without any changes, with pupils learning in set groups of up to 20 five days per week for five hours each day.
Fifth and sixth grades would learn in set groups of up to 20 students, at least three days per week for at least 14 hours each week. No transfers will be allowed between groups. And, 11th and 12th grades would learn in groups of up to 20, at least two days per week.
Education Minister Yoav Gallant has said he wanted to cancel the Hanukkah school vacation to enable parents to continue working during that time but to do so, he will need the approval of the Teachers Union. He said that if the association does not agree, he will work toward providing “camps” during the break.
Meanwhile, IKEA said Wednesday that it will again delay opening on Thursday, after discussions with the Health Ministry yielded no results.
The efforts to reopen stores and discussions to reopen schools come as health officials continue to warn that coronavirus infection rates are no longer falling as quickly as they were and may even begin rising again.
Some 665 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in Israel on Tuesday, with 1.6% of the 41,498 tests conducted returning positive, according to a Wednesday evening update by the Health Ministry.
Of the sick, 305 were in serious condition and 132 were on ventilators. The death toll rose to 2,699 - 16 people died between the ministry’s Wednesday morning and evening reports.
The infection rate in the Arab sector remains high.
On Wednesday, the Ministerial Committee for Declaring Restricted Zones extended the closures on Majdal Shams, Mas’ade and Bukata for another five days.
A report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center warned that an additional slowing in the improvement of infection rates could be seen at the weekend as a result of the relaxation of Health Ministry regulations implemented earlier this month.
The data from the past two weeks “clearly indicate” a stop in the decrease in infection rates as well as an increase in the reproduction number across the country, compared to previous weeks, according to the center, which warned that if the current trends continue, then a renewed increase in infection rates should be expected soon.
All members of the Yamina Party, including parliamentary assistants and advisers who took part in the faction’s meeting on November 9 will be required to enter quarantine, according to a statement by the party.
Party member Matan Kahana had attended the meeting before he tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The party members will remain in quarantine until the Health Ministry conducts a thorough epidemiological inquiry.