Government meeting to decide on next stage of coronavirus reopenings

Coronavirus cabinet meeting again to push nightly curfews, but health officials say they are not effective.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel’s special cabinet of ministers dealing with the coronavirus crisis met on Sunday to try and agree on the next stage to reopening the economy as pressure mounts to get more students back to school and help Israel’s ailing tourism sector.

At the start of the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that although Israel will begin using a new American-manufactured coronavirus vaccine in the coming months, the country must maintain discipline for the time being in order to keep the infection rate down.

“Encouraging headlines about the arrival of the vaccines cannot be allowed to cause complacency. This does not absolve us of continuing to strictly adhere to the Health Ministry directives in order to save lives and guard the economy – until the vaccines arrive and even afterward,” Netanyahu said.

Dubbed the “Corona Cabinet,” Netanyahu and other ministers had floated the idea of nightly curfews aimed at stopping weddings and other large gatherings that have proven to be a source of infections.

However, police officials said they had “doubts about the effectiveness of the night curfew and the ability to enforce it” because those who wanted to break the rules limiting gatherings to 10 indoors and 20 outside would find alternatives like holding weddings earlier in the day.

Newly appointed Corona Commissioner Prof. Nachman told the ministers that “there is no real effectiveness to a night curfew, and that at this stage its activation cannot be used as a means of opening additional stages” of the economy, Kan News reported.

Although expanding school attendance beyond the current limit of grades 1-4 was not on the cabinet agenda, academic researchers, educators and politicians say it is possible and desirable to open schools, the report said.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein is pushing for hotels, especially in the southern resort city of Eilat, to be allowed to reopen under health guidelines. Although international tourism is at a standstill, Israel has a strong internal tourist industry that would help get many laid-off workers back on the job.

Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shai said students should be returned to the schools immediately in “green” cities where the infection rate is low, calling on grades 1-12 to be returned to classes immediately in those areas.

“Enough playing with our children, the government has turned the children into spreaders of the virus in a completely false way. We are losing an entire generation because of the inability of the government to make decisions,” said Haim Bibbes, chairman of the Center for Local Government.

Another issue being discussed is the opening of open air shopping centers, but not closed shopping malls. Mall owners are protesting the intention of the cabinet to keep the malls closed.

The government said the next stage of economic reopening would take place after the daily infection rate averaged 500 new cases or less daily over a week. However, the drop from a record of over 9,000 new infections a day dropped dramatically with the national lockdown imposed in September, but it leveled out last week at about 700 new cases daily.

Health officials Sunday said there were only 286 new cases in the past day, most likely due the low number of tests performed on the weekend. Ministers might wait another few days to see if the infection rate stabilizes at a rate below 500 cases a day.