‘Only a miracle can stop a total shutdown,’ says Israel’s health minister

Corona advisory meeting pushes off new restrictions advised by Health Ministry and National Security Council despite skyrocketing number of confirmed cases.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Although a government meeting Tuesday on the coronavirus crisis ended with no new restrictions, Israel’s Health Minister said that the fast-rising number of those infected may force another shutdown of the economy if the situation does not improve quickly.

Israel posted a single-day record of 1,681 new cases on Monday. With 27,500 people screened, it puts the infection rate at a high 6.2 percent.

Out of 22,704 current cases, 195 are in serious condition – triple the number from two weeks ago. And while the number of deaths has been on the low side, standing currently at 375, former Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov gave a chilling forecast to the corona advisory committee, saying it could rise to 1,000 if matters do not improve.

Among other proposals, the Health Ministry and National Security Council advised cutting public gatherings to 10 people, shutting beaches, gyms, synagogues and yeshivas, and limiting restaurants to take-out service to force down the infection rate, but other government officials resisted the moves.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein decried the opposition.

“All in all we stopped the weddings and reduced the [numbers in] restaurants,” he said. “With such measures, there is no chance that we will see a decrease in morbidity, so I suggest we start talking about a full closure. If within three days we do not see a change in morbidity – we will have to get there.”

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“I do not see what other tools are available to us,” he told Yediot Ahronot in an interview on Wednesday. “What else can we do?” he said.

“Unless a miracle happens here and we see a slowdown in the rate of infections, then we have more time.”  For that would require “a radical change in trend,” he said.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz joined the meeting via video as he is currently in isolation due to having been in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. He opposed new limitations.

“It’s not right to decide on additional restrictions before two weeks have passed after imposing the last restrictions, and [checking] what their effect was. We have to return public trust” in the government, he said.

According to a senior Likud source, Gantz is being “irresponsible,” as he “opposed today every step to stop the spread of corona that could obviate the need for a general closure later on.”

By the unity government rules, Gantz’s Blue and White party and Likud must agree on plans to contain the health emergency. “They are torpedoing any decision that doesn’t accord with their populist considerations,” the source said.

A senior member of Blue and White hit back sharply.

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“Instead of ducking responsibility for managing the corona crisis, Netanyahu should let the IDF win and the Ministry of Defense command the battle on the ground,” he said. “This is not the time for politics, nor for any battle that does not restore the economy, health and society.”