Curfew or Lockdown? Coronavirus Cabinet Tries to Decide

YERUSHALAYIM -
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The conflict between public safety and the survival of the economy has never been more stark, as the Israeli coronavirus cabinet met on Thursday to decide on health regulations for the Chagim.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said during the meeting, as yet unconcluded, that “the hospitals raised a red flag. We saw what happened in other countries, we wish to stop it beforehand,” according to Channel 12.

Netanyahu reportedly advocated that the first phase of a nationwide curfew should last for two to three weeks, followed by a reevaluation.

According to Walla, Netanyahu was arguing for an “almost total lockdown,” starting next week.

Minister of Finance Yisrael Katz seemed to be in line with that. “A total lockdown is a decision that does not consider the economy. If we are going to take drastic steps, I suggest a national nightly curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.,” Katz said on Army Radio.

According to Katz, a month-long lockdown, as some have proposed, would cost the Israeli economy roughly 15-20 billion shekels, over and beyond the huge costs already sustained.

In a separate meeting with the Finance Minister on Thursday, the Manufacturers Association of Israel called the that estimate too conservative, and warned that the actual real cost could be 40 billion shekels and throw 100,000 out of work.

But health officials were leaning toward more severe measures. Minister Yuli Edelstein told Army Radio that a “lockdown — it’s one of the options. … It’s hard to see what steps we can take to avoid a general lockdown.

“Unfortunately, Israel is galloping toward impossible numbers of infections, serious cases and patients on ventilators. The health system is not prepared for a situation like this after being starved for decades. We need to stop the infections. There’s no choice but to mull a lockdown, which will have tight enforcement but also the public obeying all the rules and restrictions,” Edelstein told Ynet.

Minister of Housing Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) sought to hold the line on regulations that would harm the chagim.

According to a report on Channel 2, he told Netanyahu, “You are wrecking the chagim.”

In response, Netanyahu said, “I am not wrecking them, but am only acting as my brain dictates in order to prevent the spread of the virus and the mortality that accompanies it. We will not change our minds or backtrack from our decisions.”

The lockdown option is not all or nothing, however. Gamzu was said to be presenting a sliding scale of four possible lockdown choices ranging from a total movement ban to more selective restrictions.

Netanyahu is pressing the ministers for a decision on Thursday, in order to give police and health authorities time to organize themselves for next week.

In other coronavirus news, at least 20 coronavirus patients are known to have attended anti-government demonstrations over the past month, the Health Ministry said, although it is not known whether they became infected at the rallies or had passed on the virus to other protesters, Kan reports.

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman and party MKs Yevgeny Soba and Oded Forer entered quarantine until September 22 after a meeting earlier this week with Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, who subsequently tested positive.