Government scraps nightly curfew, decides to open malls

Flip-flop decision-making continues as government struggles for stable coronavirus policies, election hovers in background.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The government shelved a plan to impose nightly curfews across Israel due to legal difficulties resulting from health officials refusing to give their support, Channel 12 reported Wednesday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had wanted the curfew, limiting gatherings to immediate family, in order to block the spread of the coronavirus during the eight-day Chanukah holiday that starts Thursday evening.

However, officials in the Ministry of Health refused to sign their names on the plan, saying they did not agree that a night closure would reduce morbidity.

Any legal challenges to the curfew would have required proof from the government that the lockdown would reduce infections, but without health experts backing the plan, the curfew would not stand up in court and the government had no choice but to drop the idea.

The backtrack on the curfews is another in a series of questionable decisions that have marked government policy on the pandemic, including an embarrassing flip-flop in July when the cabinet ordered restaurants closed, only to reverse the decision hours later following a public uproar.

Last week, the Knesset passed a preliminary vote on a bill to dissolve parliament and go to elections. If the bill passes final readings that could be held by next week, the country might find itself in the middle of an election campaign with a vote possibly as early as March 16.

Read  Biden to meet Netanyahu after COVID quarantine, Harris to push Palestinian 'self-determination'

Health Ministry officials are working on alternatives in place of the closure that will allow gatherings to be prevented, especially on Chanukah and New Years, as coronavirus infections continue unabated.

As of Wednesday morning the ministry reported 1,720 new cases in the past day, down slightly from the 1,837 cases reported on Tuesday, with 14,806 Israelis currently known to be sick with the virus. Of those, 570 are hospitalized, 321 of them in serious condition.

Since Tuesday morning, an additional 16 Israelis succumbed to the virus, bringing the death toll since the beginning of the pandemic to 2,933.

Despite wanting to impose an evening curfew, the coronavirus cabinet decided to re-open shopping malls and outdoor markets, along with museums. The openings are being done with restrictions on the number of people allowed inside and subject to the wearing of masks and social distancing, with the decision to be reviewed by December 23.

The first shipment of coronavirus vaccines arrived in Israel Wednesday morning. More shipments are expected this week, with the first inoculations to be given to health care workers and those most endangered by the virus.

Millions more doses of the vaccine are expected to begin arriving in January, with vaccinations for the general population to begin later that month.