Israel has highest daily COVID infection rate in the world

What happened: Israel’s coronavirus cabinet yesterday approved a partial lockdown to begin on Monday in areas with a high infection rate, known as “red” cities, as the country became first in the world in the number of daily infected per million.

  • The full details, including the list of cities and the restrictions that will be imposed on them, will be drawn up by Sunday. Although there are 30 cities and towns designated as “red” cities, it is reported that full restrictions will only be imposed on ten of these. Almost all the red cities are either ultra-Orthodox or Arab.
  • The restrictions under discussion included banning entry and exit, keeping residents within 500 meters of their homes, stopping public transportation, and closing non-essential businesses and all schools save for day-care facilities and special education programmes.
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also instructed the Health Ministry to present a plan for a nationwide closure at the cabinet meeting next Thursday. He said: “If it continues like this and the [infection] figures continue to rise, we will have to act immediately [and impose a closure].” Public health experts at the meeting warned that there would be no alternative but to impose a full nationwide lockdown, since a lockdown on the red areas alone would not substantially reduce the contagion.
  • After the meeting, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu urged the public to start treating the situation seriously. He said: “This is a message to all of Israel: No weddings! No mass gatherings! No dismissal [of guidelines] at any restaurant or anywhere! I’m sorry to be emotional. This is a pivotal moment … all of Israel is at war. Illness numbers that climb from 2,000 to 3,000 in one day should worry us all.
  • He added: “Anyone who doesn’t put on a mask and who disregards [instructions] is spitting in the face of doctors and nurses who are working 24 hours a day at coronavirus wards.”

Context: The steep rise in coronavirus cases is becoming a political crisis for the coalition government as well as a social, economic and health one.

  • The Governor of the Bank of Israel Prof. Amir Yaron has said a renewed lockdown would cause a further NIS 30 billion (£6.7bn) in damage to the Israeli economy. The Knesset agreed last week to delay the deadline to pass a budget until December, after the Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on the nature of the budget.
  • At yesterday’s cabinet meeting the ultra-Orthodox ministers, Yaakov Litzman of UTJ and Aryeh Deri of Shas, were very critical of Gamzu’s traffic light system as many of the “red” cities are ultra-Orthodox communities. Litzman said: “You [Gamzu] want a lockdown during the High Holidays because you don’t want people praying … we will not let this happen.” He also asked Netanyahu to remove Gamzu from the ministerial committee to decide on the religious pilgrimage to Uman in Ukraine, which was rebuffed by Netanyahu.
  • Meanwhile, disagreements occurred between Education Minister Yaov Gallant, Interior Minister Deri and Minister Ze’ev Zelkin over where the infection rate is occurring. According to Gamzu, about half of Israel’s coronavirus cases are among the country’s Arab minority (28 per cent) and Haredi Jews (22 per cent).
  • Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Kan Television last night that he fully backs Gamzu and called upon the public to obey the guidelines.
  • Health Ministry statistics show that 2,740 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in Israel on Thursday. There are 418 people hospitalised in serious condition with 112 of them on ventilators. The number of people who have succumbed to the virus since the start of the pandemic has risen to 985. The positivity rate after 34,575 tests conducted was found to be 8 percent.
  • Gamzu said on Wednesday that 80 percent of new infections are in ultra-Orthodox cities.

Looking ahead: Unless the infection rate drops in the next week, Israel is likely heading toward another national lockdown.

  • The upcoming religious High Holiday period as an incubator for infection growth is a serious concern for public health experts.
  • A new study by researchers at Hebrew University predicted the country would have 600 serious coronavirus cases in mid-September, up from 426 on Wednesday, putting the health system under immense pressure.

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