Netanyahu ‘pulls emergency brake’ as coronavirus cases spike
Prime minister warns that if trend continues restrictions will be reinstated, as number of new daily cases hits 169
The coronavirus cabinet decided on Monday to freeze nearly all easing of restrictions that were expected in the coming days as the number of active cases continues to climb across the country.
“What we decided to do, first of all, is to hit the emergency brake,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We stopped all of the measures to ease restrictions that we were going to apply in the coming days. We will check this again next week.”
One exception is event halls. The prime minister said that the government will allow them to operate according to the directives of the Health Ministry, which “we will report to you later on.”
Netanyahu said that the meeting opened with a briefing by experts who showed that there has been a very steep increase in morbidity.
“It could be that we are already seeing the doubling of the rate of infection within 10 days,” the prime minister said. “I very much hope not.”
Within the last day, 169 Israelis were diagnosed with the novel virus, bringing the country’s total number of patients to 18,032 – among them 2,607 active cases. At the same time, the number of patients in serious condition remains low at 29, including some 23 people who are ventilated.
The city with the fastest growing level of infection is Tel Aviv, where 66 people were diagnosed with coronavirus in the last three days. There were 32 new patients in Jerusalem and 16 in the southern city of Sderot.
Government insiders said that the Health Ministry is already warning of a scary situation: “We need to prepare for a situation in which the second wave will be worse than the first and we have as many as 5,000 people on ventilators,” the Hebrew TV station N12 reported.
Several ministers are pushing back against the ministry, saying that the Health Ministry is running an “unspeakable intimidation campaign. We do not have to go to extremes to understand that we must prepare, especially when the events predicted during the first wave did not materialize,” N12 reported.
However, the prime minister has reportedly already started to express concern. In closed meetings on Monday he said that “If this trend continues, we will consider going backwards and closing what we have opened.” Though he said that if the situation does arise, “we will do it in the way that least harms the economy.”
Among the easements that are being pushed off: The intercity train will not resume operation, as originally agreed upon by the Health and Transportation ministries. In addition, theaters, and cultural centers, such as movie theaters, will not open.
“We have the ability to maintain the health of the public and our staff,” said Railways workers committee Gila Edri. “We ask the prime minister and the health minister: ‘Let us go back to running the trains!’”
Edri said that the management together with the workers committee had prepared a comprehensive plan to meet all the Health Ministry’s requirements.
“During the months that the train did not operate, the railroad and station routes were upgraded and extensive maintenance work was done on the train to provide passengers with the best service – for soldiers, students and people who do not have private vehicles and need to return to work,” she continued, noting that “this makes no sense” when all other modes of public transportation have already resumed.
Coronavirus infections in schools are also climbing.
As of Monday night, 385 students and faculty members were sick with the virus and 135 schools and preschools were closed. In total, 17,605 students and teachers were in isolation.
The Education Ministry said that 63 schools that had been closed due to the virus would return to operation this week.
“The main thing that all the experts emphasized is that we must keep the three rules: Wearing masks, keeping two meters’ distance and hygiene – washing hands,” Netanyahu added. “I ask you, for our economy, for our health and for the lives of us all – please follow the rules.”
Also, on Monday, the IDF held a forum on the pandemic, attended by the Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, as well as other senior officials. The event focused on the best practices and activities implemented by the military both within the army and in assisting with the needs of the civilian sector.
Kochavi praised the soldiers for their work and highlighted that the IDF is preparing for a potential second wave if it were to occur.
Meanwhile, a Knesset committee meeting reviewing whether the country would be prepared for a future plague found that Israel would fall short.
“Even if there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, another pandemic will almost certainly erupt in the future,” MK Ofer Shelah said. “The crisis in the health system will be due to the that fact there is not enough manpower – 50% of the medical staff is retiring and the gap in the medical system is increasing.”
At the same time, Dr. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health, charged that “health officials do not even have the basic epidemiologic data on patients to make decisions.”
Rossella Tercatin contributed to this report.