Coronavirus in Israel: New daily record reached with over 3,000 diagnosed

Cabinet to convene on red city restrictions * Death toll nears 1,000

Ultra-Orthodox men wearing masks walk around the neighborhood of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, April 12, 2020  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Ultra-Orthodox men wearing masks walk around the neighborhood of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, April 12, 2020
The coronavirus cabinet will convene again on Thursday to make difficult decisions about new restrictions and even potential lockdowns on the growing number of “red” cities across the country.
“Without a significant change in the extent of morbidity in the red cities, we will not be able to avoid a full closure,” coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu said on Wednesday during a visit to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community of Beitar Illit.
He told city leaders that some 14% of people screened for the novel virus there had tested positive.
“Unfortunately, we are witnessing a systematic breach of the guidelines,” he said during the visit. “Every evening, events are held in the city that violate all procedures. And yesterday, contrary to our instructions, the educational institutions in the city were opened.
“I understand the complexity of the situation, but I now state unequivocally: without increasing enforcement and encouraging inspections, we will be required to make complex decisions that may amount to a total lockdown,” he warned.
He told the leaders that “the situation is in your hands” and called on them to ensure that their residents adhere to Health Ministry guidelines.
Gamzu added that if there is a significant increase in infection, then the government may be required to take “drastic measures at the national level” and not only in red cities.
The coronavirus cabinet set the date of September 10 to review data and determine if a lockdown would be needed on the High Holy Days.
“Without a significant trend of change by the set date… we will be required to formulate new and broader guidelines, which will significantly disrupt the routine of life – even outside the red cities,” he said. “Sometimes, I think there is no choice; we need to make difficult decisions. These decisions are made only to protect your community and not to hurt it.”
According to Gamzu, about 28% of infection is in Arab society and 22% among ultra-Orthodox. He added that 80% of the new infections are in haredi cities.
Among the newly infected are hundreds of yeshiva students.
Binyamin Cohen, director of the yeshiva committee control center – which is tasked with overseeing the adherence of such institutes to government guidelines – reported Wednesday morning that some 100 yeshiva students in the northern city of Karmiel had been diagnosed with coronavirus.
The center said that, in accordance with Health Ministry directives, the sick students were put in isolation. Because the event was caught quickly, he added, the outbreak was contained.
Cohen told Israeli media that out of about 25,000 yeshiva students, around 500 have been diagnosed with the virus. Other sites were reporting that as many as 800 students tested positive and thousands more are in isolation.
The center also reported major outbreaks in the cities of Elad, Rishon Lezion and Jerusalem.
Cohen said that all sick students are in quarantine, from where they are continuing their studies.
IN SPITE of all this, a directive came from the home of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky that yeshiva students should stop being screened for coronavirus because it could lead to “mass loss of Torah study.”
The statements led to clashes between the coronavirus commissioner and his followers, and the ultra-Orthodox community.
The rabbi, considered one of the top scholars of this generation, reportedly instructed students learning in the country’s yeshivas not to be tested for the novel coronavirus so as to avoid yeshiva closures that could last through Yom Kippur and mass isolation.
While the report was confirmed by someone close to Kanievsky, it is important to note that the directive was delivered verbally, and was neither caught on video nor written down by the rabbi. In addition, the Kikar Hashabbat website said that the rabbi’s instructions did not apply to high school students.
Gamzu responded that Kanievsky’s instructions “endanger the haredi public.”
He was backed by MK Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), who likewise snapped at the rabbi, writing on his Facebook page that “decisions about who should be tested should be made by professionals for the benefit of the public, including the haredi population.” He said that the number of tests needs to be increased – not decreased – so that “the country could operate based on data and coronavirus could be eradicated without unnecessary closures.”
Other MKs also came to Gamzu’s defense. MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who chairs the Knesset Coronavirus Committee, said that “no one is above the law and no one is immune to coronavirus.
“Rabbi Kanievsky, despite his age, is behaving irresponsibly,” she continued. “Such a statement must not be accepted in silence by those in charge of the struggle against the novel coronavirus.”
She added that red cities with high infection rates should be strongly dealt with. “Otherwise, we will not be able to defeat the virus.”
OTHERS TOOK the rabbi’s side, however. MK Yitzhak Pindros (United Torah Judaism) lashed out at Gamzu and warned him “do not interfere in what has proven successful for thousands of years,” referring to receiving advice from learned rabbis. He said that the infection rate has only gone up since Gamzu took on his role six weeks ago.
“I hope he has more success running a hospital,” Pindros said.
Another person who seems to be going against the commissioner is Education Minister Yoav Gallant, who visited the haredi town of Bnei Brak on Wednesday and delivered a message that schools cannot be shut down in the city.
In closed-door conversations that were revealed by KAN news, Gallant told haredi leaders that he is not a member of the coronavirus cabinet and therefore his opinion is not considered, but “I opposed and am opposed to closing so-called red cities, which are also fictional.”
He said that red cities are a concept that was “named and invented but does not really exist.”
Gallant told the leaders, KAN revealed, that he sees no difference between the different color cities, and that closing educational institutions is “fundamentally wrong.”
“Beyond the question of red, orange, yellow or green, we have to deal with the general health of our residents, which is the most important thing,” Bnei Brak Mayor Avraham Rubinstein told N12. “Let’s put aside ‘yes closure, no closure.’ My challenge – our challenge – is to heal the city from this sickness.”
He also said in remarks shared by KAN news that he believes there are “absurd” and even “dumb” decisions being made.
In relation to the infection rate in Arab cities, Dr. Masad Barhoum, director-general of Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, spoke to KAN news on Wednesday.
“Have you ever tried to stop a speeding truck?” he asked. “It is impossible. The ‘speeding truck’ of weddings in Arab society cannot be stopped. So, what needs to be done is to minimize damage?”
Israeli media reported on a wedding in Shfar’am that 5,000 people attended on Tuesday, many without masks. Participants did not social distance; police came and broke up the event.
He told the station that his hospital is experiencing a steady increase in coronavirus patients and that it will soon reach capacity.
IN GENERAL, another 2,190 people were diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday, the Health Ministry reported, plus another 3,074 on Wednesday - some 9% of those screened tested positive. There were a total of 418 people in serious condition, including 118 who were intubated. Eight more people died Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 969.
Part of the reason for the new higher numbers is because the public in general is not following directives. N12 reported on a back-to-school party in Beer Sheva at which dozens of teenagers gathered without keeping restrictions, such as wearing masks or social distancing.
Later, it was discovered that one of the students was infected with coronavirus and the entire grade of 107 students had to enter isolation.
Similar parties, gatherings and even concerts took place in the Hefer Valley region and Dimona.
In a separate interview, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health for the Health Ministry, said that the traffic light plan presented by Gamzu and approved by the cabinet earlier this week will not work if the public does not cooperate with it.
“If I see pictures from yesterday of a school in Jerusalem – an orange city – where children are gathering together and celebrating the start of the school year, or all the ‘pirate’ weddings with thousands of attendees, we will start the traffic light plan on Sunday and nothing will happen,” Alroy-Preis told the Hebrew website Ynet. “The public’s cooperation is important in this matter. It is not just a plan that the Health Ministry created.”
However, when she was asked if she expected a closure on red cities, she said that the Health Ministry’s stance is not to institute a sweeping closure on such red cities.
“It will be done with a lot of thought,” she said. “We will only place closures where it is clear that lockdown or any other restrictions will help lower the rate of infection.”