What happened: The Corona Cabinet agreed last night to proceed with the recommendation from Coronavirus Coordination Prof. Roni Gamzu for a three-stage plan for lowering the rate of infection is Israel.
- The first stage is a lockdown and is expected to occur over the Jewish High Holidays. People will be restricted to no more than 500m from their homes whilst non-essential businesses, restaurants, leisure facilities, tourist spots and most schools will be closed. The weekly cost of such a lockdown during the holidays is estimated as being between three to four billion shekels. The cost of a lockdown during a normal week is higher.
- In the second stage, the lockdown will be slightly eased to allow greater freedom of movement but inter-city travel will be prohibited, whilst private businesses will be allowed 30-50 per cent of their workforce back to the office. Restaurants, leisure facilities, hotels, malls, tourist spots and most schools will continue to be closed.
- In the third stage, the traffic light programme will be implemented. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, “The transition from stage to stage will be done following an assessment and provided that a picture of the situation indicates a prominent and continuing trend of decline in morbidity.”
- Yesterday the Health Ministry recorded its highest-yet tally of daily coronavirus cases, with 4,038 new cases. Of the 33,920 active cases, 489 were in serious condition, 134 of them on ventilators. Another 180 were in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.
Context: Not every member of the Corona Cabinet supported the three-stage plan. Ministers Yaakov Litzman (UTJ), Izhar Shay (Blue and White), Aryeh Deri (Shas) and Amir Peretz (Labor) voted against it.
- Interior Minister Aryeh Deri proposed starting the lockdown today to give the economy another two workdays. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last night: “We must take action carefully, not recklessly, so it takes many hours, and on the other hand [we must make a decision] early enough so that we can all get organised for the holidays.”
- After the meeting Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was heard criticising the plan presented by Prof. Gamzu. He said: “He wants to topple the government, Gamzu. I know him. He lied to us. The lockdown’s being held on Rosh Hashana and the Jewish holidays deliberately. It’s rude that they want to have the lockdown on the High Holidays, of all times.”
- Last week Prof. Gamzu tried to push the cabinet to enforce a full lockdown on the so-called “red cities” with the highest infection rates. However, Netanyahu came under heavy pressure from ultra-Orthodox Ministers Litzman and Deri and Haredi mayors from some of the cities not to enforce Gamzu’s plan. Instead, the government imposed nightly curfews in 40 towns and neighbourhoods.
- Not all health officials agree with Prof. Gamzu’s three-staged plan. Yesterday Health Ministry Director General Prof. Hezi Levy said of the Traffic Light Model: “The differential programme will grow to encompass several hundred thousand more [people] until we get to something very similar to a general lockdown. The differential programme is out of date.”
- Rambam Hospital Director Dr. Michael Halbertal said in the Corona cabinet meeting: “We need to have a lockdown, to restart the system”. The Weizmann Institute’s Prof. Eli Waxman also said during the meeting: “Gamzu’s plan has failed. We wasted precious time and now we have to implement more extreme steps for a longer time period. There’s no alternative to a lockdown from now until after the holidays.”
- Opposition Leader Yair Lapid criticised the plan, saying: “They’ll have a three-week lockdown, and then what? Do they have a healthcare plan? Do they have an economic plan? Have they set up an epidemiological testing system? Nothing. We’re headed for a lockdown because they failed, and they have no idea what they want to do now. Is there an explanation why businesses in green cities should be locked down? It’s about politics, not healthcare.” Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman echoed Lapid by saying the decision to impose a second lockdown is an “admission that the government has failed to deal with the coronavirus.
Looking ahead: The plan will be submitted for Cabinet approval on Sunday, 13 September and is expected to come into effect at the end of September.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu is keen to get cabinet approval before he leaves for Washington on Sunday night for the signing ceremony between Israel and the UAE.
- Detailed regulations still must be submitted for final Cabinet approval before the plan comes into effect, including the dates of each stage. There is still likely to be some political negotiating on the exact restrictions, particularly concerning religious activity during the High Holidays.