5,238 New Cases as Israel Set to Lock Down; Netanyahu Threatens More Restrictions

Israeli police seen at the entrance to the neighborhood of Ramot when the area was under a night curfew last week. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

5,238 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Thursday, the Health Ministry said Friday morning.

The country’s death toll remains at 1,169 as no new deaths were reported.

577 patients are listed serious condition, with 153 intubated.

Meanwhile, Israel will enter lockdown mode at 2 p.m., just hours before Rosh Hashanah, after the government and parliament approved on Thursday a closure that will last at least two weeks.

The Knesset approved an initial lockdown for two weeks, which is likely to be extended to three and possibly more.

“We find ourselves before the second closure since the start of the global coronavirus pandemic,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday night. “We have determined that one of the criteria for new restrictions would be a red flag from the health system – and it was waved last week,” Netanyahu said. “So, we are imposing the closure that will begin tomorrow. We are making every effort to balance health and economic needs.”

The prime minister added that in the last two days the country has seen a further increase in morbidity, as well as a rise in the number of seriously ill patients.

“I had a conversation with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu and the other experts and asked them one question: Does this condition require us to further tighten restrictions?”

He said “there will be no choice but to tighten the restrictions,” but that before making any changes to the current outline, he will discuss them with his fellow ministers. “I will not just impose a closure on the State of Israel, but I will not hesitate to impose restrictions if necessary.”

Soon before the final vote by the Knesset, Netanyahu held an urgent meeting with Edelstein, Gamzu and a number of ministers and experts to discuss whether to tighten the restrictions. The meeting came after a lively debate in the Knesset that questioned the effectiveness of the upcoming lockdown if people have so much flexibility of movement.

During the meeting, it was revealed, Gamzu explained that, “I do not think a long-term closure is the answer to managing coronavirus. If we were at 2,000 cases per day and we were not in the period of the chagim, I would not take any step like this, but would just use the traffic-light program.

“The public is not with us,” he lamented. “We have to take into account the economy. Even if I go and tell the public that there will be 1,000 dead from coronavirus a week, it will not convince them. The public is just not there.”

He said he estimates that the lockdown in its current format will likely only reduce the daily number of newly infected patients to between about 3,000 to 4,000.

Edelstein responded that “there will be no escape from serious restrictions.” He said that the public is asking what happens after the lockdown and “we tell them we will be able to cut the chains of infection. But we are not there. We cannot perform contact tracing on 2,000 or 3,000 people per day.”

The previous day, Edelstein said in a closed-door meeting: “I consulted with all the senior officials, most of them with advanced degrees and experts in the field, and asked them whether there is a chance that the infection rate will go down under these conditions. To my great disappointment, I did not find anyone who was optimistic.”

The ministers considered changing the restrictions even before Rosh Hashanah, but decided that it should wait until after Yom Tov is over. It is still unclear if they will try to tighten the directives before or after Yom Kippur. The new regulations could mean closing down shuls and marketplaces.

6,000 police officers and an additional 1,000 IDF soldiers are to enforce the lockdown.

The forces will focus mainly on restricting large gatherings of people and less on individuals, according to reports.

Barriers will also be erected at city entrances to stop people from travel along with additional barricades in some neighborhoods.