A third COVID-19 lockdown for Israel is unavoidable now

Let’s take a look at the results of recent reopenings and of some flagrant violations of Health Ministry guidelines.

Shops in Jerusalem sit closed during the national coronavirus lockdown, Oct. 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Shops in Jerusalem sit closed during the national coronavirus lockdown, Oct. 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The writing is on the wall, and everywhere you care to look, Israel appears to be headed for a third lockdown.
Through a combination of inconsistent government policy, flagrant disregard of regulations among certain segments of the population and the inevitable outcome of opening more of the country, the numbers of infected are steadily rising.
 Let’s take a look at the results of that reopening and of some of those flagrant violations.
• A week after the “green island” program was invoked, enabling hotels in Eilat and at the Dead Sea to open, 10 employees of the Isrotel Dead Sea were found to be infected. The hotel staff was sent home and anyone with whom they came in contact was alerted. All those who stayed at the hotel since November 22 were asked to be tested through their local health fund.
• A mall pilot program was launched Friday at 15 malls as a precursor to a wider opening of retail stores. The program had several basic tenets: One person per every 7 sq.m. was allowed to shop (up to 10 customers); the number of visitors to the mall would be measured digitally and monitored; mall monitors would patrol and enforce the rules of mask-wearing and social distancing.
In scenes recalling Black Friday mobs in the US, thousands crowded together in entrances, hallways and in stores as they attempted to quench their consumer hunger after being deprived for close to two months. As a result, the Health Ministry was already considering shutting down the program and chalking it up as a failure, and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said mall owners “shot themselves in the foot.”
• A day after the Health Ministry reported more than 1,000 new cases of the virus, students in grades 10-12 returned partially to the classroom Sunday after nine months at home. In addition, 3.3% of people screened for the novel coronavirus on Saturday tested positive – the highest number in the last month and up from an average of around 2% last week.
A report by the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center indicated that there has been a consistent increase in the number of cases and that it expects the number to continue rising.
• Gyms and swimming pools are demanding to be allowed to open on Tuesday despite the rising number of infections. A protest tent has been set up in front of the Knesset, and a number of demonstrations and activities over the week are expected – including spinning and Zumba classes – to pressure the government to acquiesce to their demands.
Channel 12 reported on Saturday that two-thirds of Israelis returning from countries with high coronavirus infection rates have been breaking quarantine. Coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash, Edelstein and Health Ministry officials were told that between 1%-2% of those returning from abroad were later found to be infected with the virus. According to regulations, travelers returning from one of those countries are required to enter quarantine for 14 days, a period that can be shortened to 12 days.
“There is no escape from draconian measures to combat the phenomenon. What we are seeing here is the pandemic being imported into the country. It must be stopped immediately,” Edelstein reportedly said, according to Channel 12.
All of the above examples – whether through good intentions, accumulative frustration over nine months of restrictions, or simply disregard for what needs to be done – spell a lockdown.
At the beginning of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the country is in danger of spiraling out of control and that if the current rise in the rate of infection continues, “we will stop the continued easing of restrictions and even tighten those reliefs that have already been granted.”
Former Health Ministry director-general Gabi Barbash told The Jerusalem Post about a lockdown: “The question is not if. It’s how long until” it happens.
That writing on the wall is as depressing as it is infuriating. With it comes the realization that until we start acting smart and responsibly as we wait for a vaccine to be distributed and administered to a significant majority of the population, we’ve created a vicious cycle that we will be forced to live with.