A day after Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised his government would have decisions going forward on the lockdown, the cabinet was stymied again Wednesday afternoon, as Likud and Blue and White ministers debated restrictions on political demonstrations versus Yom Kippur tefillos.
Netanyahu was insisting on equal limits on prayer and protests, 20 people maximum in open-air venues, and accused his coalition partners of playing politics while people are dying.
“Today 31 people died of the coronavirus. I am fighting for the lives of the people of Israel. I am fighting for public health. At the same time, there are those engaging in petty politics. We are at war. Wake up!” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
“I fully support the right to protest, but every week Israelis see how they’re required to celebrate the holidays alone, how they’re required to follow health regulations, and at the same time how protesters mass against all health rules.”
In a statement sent to the press, Blue and White said its leader Benny Gantz, who is in Washington, told party members to “insist on what is good for citizens’ health and stopping virus infections, while balancing Judaism, Democracy, the economy and society. Do not focus only on the issue of demonstrations.”
Gantz said the “obsessive discussion on the protest issue” must stop, calling it “disproportionate,” and said that his party will accept the recommendations of health officials in the matter, according to The Times of Israel.
Blue and White officials were reported to have told Netanyahu they would agree to the down-sizing of rallies, which have been attended by thousands, only if a full-on lockdown is imposed — a measure opposed by both parties.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu said on Radio Yerushalayim that in his view “restrictions at this point should be about everything, including demonstrations… There is no gathering that is not contagious… When you take off your mask and shout at demonstrations, or if in the heat of the demonstration it falls down, then it is clear what happens.”
He added that the country will not open quickly as it did after the Pesach closure – not the education system, restaurants or leisure activities.
“Everything will be graded and slow,” he said. “It depends on two parameters: a low coefficient of infection and a decrease in the level of morbidity that will reduce the number of serious patients.”
He expressed frustration that the government left the cabinet meeting on Tuesday without any decisions and said “it does not look good.”
The latest figures released by the Health Ministry on Wednesday put confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak over the 200,000 mark — 200,041 — only a month after the country hit 100,000 cases.
There were 634 patients in serious condition as of Wednesday morning, including 171 on ventilators, and 266 people listed in moderate condition. The remainder suffered mild or no symptoms.
The ministry announced a record 61,165 tests were carried out on Tuesday, with a high rate of positive results — about 11 percent.
To add to the gloom, a Finance Ministry economist told ministers a full lockdown through mid-October would cost the economy NIS 35 billion ($10 billion), according to media reports.