Israel to tighten restrictions as corona numbers spiral, 19-year-old dies

“I… said that this was an accordion policy. You open it and if you see the disease is returning and spreading – you tighten it,” Netanyahu said. 

By David Isaac, World Israel News

With the number of corona cases spiking well past 300 over the last six days, and a 19-year-old girl, the youngest victim of corona in Israel, dying on Saturday, Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting discussed the country’s next steps in combating the disease.

“Many countries that lifted the restrictions, upon a lessening of the disease, are now being compelled to reimpose the restrictions in order to block the spread,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the cabinet meeting.

“We have also been compelled to take actions. I likened our policy, when we opened up the economy upon a lessening of the disease, and said that this was an accordion policy. You open it and if you see the disease is returning and spreading – you tighten it. This is not a zigzag; it is the policy of any sane country and it is also how we will act.

“Therefore, in light of the increased spread, today in the Corona Cabinet, we will discuss restrictions on gatherings alongside steps to increase enforcement and the steps that we are taking to make severing the chain of infection more efficient.”

Although the government has not yet made its official decision, the maximum number of people allowed to gather is expected to be reduced to 50, according to officials in the Health Ministry. If the situation doesn’t improve, that number could shrink further to just 10.

Other steps are being considered, such as shuttering summer camps, having employees who have returned to offices go back to working remotely, and limiting the number of beachgoers.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish said on Saturday evening, “The steps we take now will save us having to lock down tomorrow.”

As everywhere, Israel has taken an economic hit from the pandemic. On June 24, its unemployment rate stood at 20.77 percent. The country is understandably reluctant to introduce a blanket shutdown again and is focusing instead on targeted closings of areas that have been identified as corona hotspots, enforcing social distancing and mask-wearing and other less draconian steps.

If the number allowed to gather is reduced, certain economic sectors that have started to recover will be badly hurt. “We returned to work on June 14 and every day we’re waiting for opening up the restrictions. Instead of going forward we’re going backwards,” David Gadji, a chef and representative at an events park, told Israel Hayom.

The Finance Ministry is working to take the economic sting if there’s another lockdown. Netanyahu said at Sunday’s meeting, “The Finance Ministry has been asked to render immediate assistance to sectors that have been hurt and – of course – see to the transfer of the funds that we have allocated, considerable funds that must reach the public, including the unemployed.

“If we succeed with health, we will succeed with the economy. It is my intention that we succeed with both. This requires determined action, which is not always simple, but is required at this time. We will take action regarding health and the economy, and with God’s help we will be victorious,” he said.

On Sunday, Israel is expected to start its serological testing for the virus, which will help estimate how many people have been infected. The tests will be carried out at 480 stations around the country. Estimates say 1%-to-2% of the population has the virus. Europe and U.S. serological testing has found that the number of people infected is on average 5-to-10 times the number of people confirmed to have the disease.