Health Ministry warns of month-long, nationwide lockdown

As coronavirus infections continue to skyrocket, officials say hospitals are on the verge of collapse under the load.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

With the number of coronavirus infections at record high levels, a senior health official warned that the country might be headed for a national lockdown that would last at least a month, Channel 12 reported Wednesday.

In a tense video conference with the heads of Israel’s major hospitals, Health Ministry director-general Prof. Hezi Levy said that if Israel goes to a lockdown, it will have to be imposed for at least a month to be effective.

The closure is expected to come at the start of the Rosh Hashana new year’s holiday season that begins September 18 and continues past the end of the Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) holiday, which ends the second week of October.

The move would duplicate the closure imposed earlier this year during the Passover holiday that successfully helped bring the first wave of coronavirus infections to an end. The lockdown would prevent millions of Jewish Israelis from gathering for traditional family meals and close synagogues – two known sources of infection.

Compounding the problem was the announcement Tuesday evening that Levy and the top Health Ministry officials were forced to go into self-isolation after it was discovered they had been in a room with a ministry staff member who was confirmed to be infected.

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Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish and four other top health officials will have to work from home or camp out alone in their offices.

In a Zoom call, most of the hospital directors told Levy they think a general closure is needed immediately to deal with the growing morbidity.

“A closure of two or three weeks will not be enough to make a difference,” Levy acknowledged. “A one-month closure will be required.”

A source familiar with the meeting told Channel 12 that the exchange with the ministry director-general was particularly stormy.

Hospital directors called on Levy to push for a general nationwide closure.

“The earlier the closure takes effect, the greater the chance that we will be able to settle for a shorter closure,” one official said, while Wolfson Hospital director Dr. Anat Engel was of the minority opinion that there was no need for a closure.

The hospital heads had harsh criticism for the politicians, who have been squabbling among themselves for weeks as the infection rate increased to record levels and pushed Israel into the embarrassing position of having the world’s highest per-capita infection rate.

“All the steps that one wants to take are stopped at the political level. The decisions should be professional and not political, and now significant steps are needed,” one director said.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that closures would be imposed starting Sunday on the cities with the highest infection rates. However, following opposition from politicians, that decision was watered down to only a nightly curfew and school closures that were started Tuesday evening in 40 cities.

Several cities ignored the school closures, and Knesset member Yitzhak Pindross of United Torah Judaism called on all schools in cities under closure orders to remain open. Elsewhere, businesses and residents were seen ignoring the curfews and police were not enforcing the closures.

“A collapse [of the hospitals] does not come in one day, it is a gradual process that is already being felt today in the hospital wards,” one hospital director said. “Enough of using nice words – a closure should be imposed as early as possible so that it will be more effective.”