Israelis Not Going Quietly into Next Lockdown

Israelis wear protective face masks in Tel Aviv, on Monday. (FLASH90)

Controversy over the impending lockdown continued on Monday with complaints heard from experts, politicians, business people and everybody else, it seemed.

Knesset Coronavirus Committee Chairwoman MK Yifat Shasha-Biton warned that a national lockdown will be a “critical hit” to public health, citing medical experts who advise against it.

“I had many conversations with hospital administrators. Quite a few of them went out to the media in recent days and said unequivocally that they oppose the closure,” said Shasha-Biton. “It is true that there are hospitals that have congestion but are not yet in failure.”

“I will never argue with any profession in the medical field, but from the data and information that I’ve gotten from senior doctors and hospital administrators are saying not only to us but outside as well that there cannot be a lockdown,” added Shasha-Biton. “A lockdown is a critical hit to public health. There were those who said that no decision or consideration of health was behind the lockdown decision.”

Evidently, the majority view of the ministers, backed up by their own battery of experts, is that a lockdown is necessary.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said Monday morning the lockdown could only be eased when daily coronavirus infections drop to 1,000 a day, but admitted that final criteria have yet to be set.

Speaking to the Kan public broadcaster, Levy said the country will be released from the lockdown when there is a noticeable drop in morbidity rates.

“We would like to get to 500 cases a day, but it is clear that at this time that won’t happen,” Levy said.

“If we see a drop to 1,000 patients, and proper behavior [from the public], and a downward trend in morbidity, and at the same time stabilization in the hospital system, that will be a positive sign to consider coming out of the lockdown. We will put together criteria in the coming days,” he said.

Seeking to soften the blow, Ran Balicer, head of the expert panel that advises coronavirus project manager Ronni Gamzu, said it won’t be a “full lockdown” like the one last Pesach.

He suggested instead using the term “social leisure lockdown.”

“We need to find a new name for this, because it’s something very different,” said the entire country is moving from green to red, so the whole idea of geographical differentiation loses its point when the level [of virus spread] is so dramatic,” he said.

“So we really need to put this aside for a while to get the flames under control because when the entire forest is burning, there’s no point in targeted activity to put out a fire here or there. You need to have a blanket solution to put out the flames.”

On what to expect, Balicer said: “Following the weekend days and holidays, people will go to work in many different instances, almost as usual, and they will go home, but not to a bar or to a restaurant or to friends to have a large dinner together, and the kids will not travel together to the shopping mall to hang out together.”

According to Health Ministry figures published Monday evening, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases had risen to 159,290, nearly 3,700 more cases than Sunday night.

While opinions vary widely on the epidemiological efficacy of closure, on the economic impact the only question seemed to be how many billions of shekels and how many thousands of jobs will be lost and businesses permanently closed.

Finance Ministry officials estimate that a month-long lockdown will cost the Israeli economy 15-20 billion shekels, Ynet reported.

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz had proposed an alternative plan which would have the country divided into a number of areas based on infection rates. That would enable continuity of trade, labor and the education system throughout the country while significantly reducing gatherings and thus lowering the chances of infection. But his idea lost out.

Meanwhile, Israeli police said on Monday they are gearing up to enforce the lockdown, regardless of what it’s called.

They will be setting up hundreds of checkpoints across the country and authorized to write out draconian fines for violators of the regulations.

Although the full set of rules have yet to be published, Israelis will be forbidden to venture more than 500 meters from their homes, except for essential activities, while schools, malls and hotels; street gatherings; and in-person dining at restaurants will be banned.

People caught beyond the permitted distance from home without a valid reason will be liable to a fine of 500 shekels ($145) and will then be escorted in the direction of their homes, the police said. Repeat offenders will incur higher fines.

The lockdown, bitterly opposed by many sectors of the workforce, and castigated by the opposition as proof of government failure, will take effect at 2 p.m. on Friday, hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah. It is scheduled to end after Simchas Torah, on October 9.