Curfews fall on 40 cities, infection rate surpasses 3,500 in a single day

Gamzu, Edelstein enter isolation after staff members test positive

Israeli army Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a IDF lab in central Israel on July 15, 2020. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)
Israeli army Technicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a IDF lab in central Israel on July 15, 2020.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER/FLASH90)
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu will spend the next day working on his recommendations for how to curtail coronavirus infection over the High Holy Days, after night curfews were placed on 40 cities and neighborhoods on Tuesday evening. More than 3,500 people were diagnosed with the virus in the last 24 hours.
“I apologize wholeheartedly to all the cities that are currently in the process of being restricted,” Gamzu said during his weekly Facebook broadcast, only hours before the curfews were enacted. “I apologize to the residents and mayors. The coronavirus sometimes requires us to take unpleasant steps to maintain health. That is the only thing that guides me.”
He said the morbidity rate in the red cities is among the highest in the world.
“We need to stop gatherings, especially in red cities... What we are doing is to protect the residents and reduce the morbidity,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed similar sentiments later in the afternoon, during a visit to Beit Shemesh, which is among the red cities.
“What we are doing now is a process meant to stop the increase [in infection],” he said. “I cannot say that it will bring about the decrease that we want; I can say that we are trying it.”
He said the whole world is under attack by a second wave of the virus and Israel is no different.
“We are going through difficult times, but we will get through it together if we work together,” the prime minister said, again lashing out at “irresponsible politicians who call on the public not to follow the guidelines, who say disobey the rules disseminated by the Health Ministry or the police who try to enforce them. This simply leads to anarchy, many more serious patients and ultimately dead people.”
On Monday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman called on the public to “act in accordance with common sense and not in accordance with government guidelines” during his party’s faction meeting.
There were 3,514 people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus on Monday, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday, plus another 2,299 diagnosed between midnight and press time. Of the sick, 454 were in serious condition at press time, including 143 who were intubated. Ten more people died since midnight, bringing the death toll to 1,040.
Among the sick is a Shield of Israel employee who Gamzu had worked closely with in recent days, causing the commissioner to enter isolation. An epidemiological investigation later showed Gamzu would not be alone: Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and several of his staff entered isolation Tuesday night, as did Deputy Health Minister MK Yoav Kisch, director-general Chezy Levy and the head of Shield of Israel haredi desk Maj. Gen. (Res.) Roni Numa, among several other Health Ministry employees. The head of the Shield of Israel Arab desk also tested positive for coronavirus.
The 40 cities, 28 of which are Arab, as well as many haredi (ultra-Orthodox) cities and neighborhoods, received restrictions that will last until September 15. Each night from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m., residents cannot travel more than 500 meters from home, and stores and businesses that don’t provide essential products or services must close. The education system is also closed in these red zones, except for special education and day cares.
Prayer services can take place and public transportation will continue uninterrupted. Also, entry and exit from the communities is not restricted.
Among the 40 cities are Elad, Bnei Brak and Betar Illit, for example, and Taiba and Tira. Moreover, east Jerusalem and several haredi neighborhoods throughout the capital were labeled red zones.
Some 1.3 million people live in these areas.
The police are working with the IDF to secure the areas. Speaking on Tuesday, acting chief of police Motti Cohen said that beyond the closures and the tickets, what he hears from the heads of local authorities is that “the work is work that we must do together; the public needs to listen to the directives, to be part of the guidelines.
“The responsibility is a collective responsibility – on every citizen of the State of Israel,” he said.
Speaking to Channel 12, Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein said residents there would obey all government regulations, but that they were “hurting and angry.”
In a letter to Gamzu, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion protested the closure orders on some of the nine Jerusalem neighborhoods that were included in the red areas.
“A night closure on neighborhoods in the west of the city is simply ineffective,” he wrote, referring to the haredi neighborhoods that are under curfew, such as Ramat Shlomo, Ramot and Sanhedria. “The virus doesn’t have hours when it rests. At the same time, the rationale for restricting movement at night in the Arab sector in order to prevent weddings is a major, understandable and targeted focus for the sake of the Arab residents themselves.
 “If we would impose a general closure in order to eradicate the virus, then we would all mobilize: with all our might, with understanding and determination. However, violating the freedom of movement of Jerusalem residents in a way that does not prevent the spread of the virus is neither proportionate nor effective. “
He questioned the data behind the decision, writing that the data on the city was inaccurate since many of those confirmed as being infected are in yeshivas in other cities, and a “considerable amount” of infections have not been connected to specific neighborhoods.
Reports showed that Arab citizens were also frustrated by the closures and felt that the decision to put them under night curfew was more political than practical.
While leaders and residents of these red zones expressed anger with the situation on Tuesday, the reality is that worse may be yet to come over the week and a half of High Holy Days – from Rosh Hashanah, the night of September 18, through Yom Kippur, September 28.
Edelstein has maintained that there may be no escape from a general closure. From his standpoint, it has been reported, either the country should lock down or stay open, but that the middle ground is ineffective.
At the same time, Gamzu said the severe restrictions will be needed over the holidays to ensure the health system can manage in the winter when the flu and coronavirus are infecting the public at the same time.
Gamzu is expected to reveal his recommendations for the High Holy Days on Thursday at a coronavirus cabinet meeting.
“About a month ago, I defined an outline,” Gamzu stressed during his briefing. “Holidays are a time of many gatherings. There will be eating [together] and therefore there is a danger of increased infection.”
For now, reports are that the recommendations are likely to include closing the streets to ensure that people eat their holiday meals only with their immediate family; closing schools, businesses and retail outlets; and closing restaurants.
Gamzu also said that for the last two months, the country has been building infrastructure to manage the coronavirus crisis in all places – infrastructure that could help Israel manage the situation for the next several months while the world is living with the virus.
“It will take us a little longer to become fully operational and well-oiled,” he said,” but we will give the citizens a system to control the coronavirus rather than it controlling us.”
He said that by November 1, Israel will screen as many as 100,000 people per day.
During his briefing, Gamzu addressed the disagreements with and attacks on him by certain ministers and other members of the parliament and government, as well as about the fact that not all of his recommendations have been accepted.
“It’s true that there are things I have offered that have not been accepted, but for these things I will not resign,” he said. “It’s not right to leave with the slamming of a door.”
However, he also removed himself from the government’s decisions. “In case someone is confused, the people fighting the battle against the coronavirus are in the government.
“You bring recommendations to the government and the government has to decide on them. They need to evaluate them – and their considerations are not only epidemiological,” he said. “At the end of the day, I try to convince the government on behalf of the citizens.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.