Israeli cabinet weighs tighter lockdown as virus spreads

With death toll and hospitalizations increasing, government considering tougher measures to try and force infection rate down.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News.

Israel’s “Corona Cabinet” met Tuesday to consider what additional closures might be necessary in order to reduce the infection rate, which is threatening to overwhelm the health system.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers that “quick decisions need to be made” as his top health expert recommended tightening restrictions on the public. Meanwhile, a minister from one religious party warned of a “rebellion” if the government ordered synagogues to close for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, which begins Sunday evening, Kan News reported.

National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat told the meeting that there is an increase in all indices, and therefore additional restrictions are needed in the economy, including increased enforcement.

The head of the government coronavirus task force, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, recommended a series of measures including the closing of synagogues, reducing the workforce in the private sector to 50 percent of its capacity and working in an emergency format in the public sector.

With pressure mounting on the government over the soaring unemployment rate, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz said they are working on a plan to preserve private sector jobs under the lockdown.

Katz said he didn’t want any additional work restrictions.

“I oppose the tightening of the closure,” Katz told Kan Radio, adding that any workplace not adhering to health guidelines would have government aid to it withheld.

Gamzu told the cabinet the decisions could not wait until after Yom Kippur because the health system was lacking at least 4,000 beds to handle the rising number of serious cases, with several major hospitals reporting they are full and turning away coronavirus patients to other facilities.

Known as Israel’s corona czar, Gamzu pointed to the the high percentage of positive tests in the ultra-Orthodox community ranging from 16.5% to 26% in the last two weeks, compared with about 7%-to-10% in the general population and between 9.5% to 14% in the Arab population.

Although the virus has been found to spread rapidly in synagogues, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, head of the religious Shas Party, warned against closing houses of worship on Yom Kippur where religious Jews spend most of their day in prayer and fasting

“It does a lot of damage, the ultra-Orthodox sector wants to revolt,” he said, complaining that similar restrictions were not being put on anti-government demonstrations or on beaches where hundreds of opponents to the lockdown were shown partying on the weekend.

Netanyahu replied that “there is a need for uniformity – both for the synagogues and for the demonstrations.” However, no interim decision was reached.

In a teleconference before the cabinet meeting, Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau told Netanyahu that given the government’s failure to enforce the lockdown restrictions on other public gatherings and as mass protests continue to be permitted, the public will largely ignore orders to close synagogues on Yom Kippur.

A team of researchers from the Weizmann Institute warned that the models suggested that without more restrictions up to 1,200 more Israelis could succumb to coronavirus by mid-November, Kan reported.

Prof. Eran Segal, who heads the team, called for hospitals to prepare to admit hundreds more patients in serious condition and for the immediate tightening of restrictions and enforcement of health guidelines.