Public Health Chief: ‘Unrestrained’ Reopening Could Lead to Another Lockdown

A man stands outside a closed store in Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel is stepping too quickly out of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown and risks going into third lockdown as early as next month, a senior health official warned on Sunday in an interview with Kan radio.

Sharon Elrai, acting head of the Health Ministry’s public health services division, said that Israel’s R factor – which indicates the level of coronavirus infections in the population – is on the rise, ominously suggesting that morbidity will soon be on the rise as well.

Elrai’s comments come as Israel moved on to reopen its street-front shops that were shut down nearly two months ago as part of the measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Elrai lamented the government’s decision to approve the move, claiming that ministers rush to lift restrictions while disregarding the exit strategy they themselves agreed upon.

Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science also warned that the move may cancel previous gains in Israel’s efforts to rein in the pandemic and called to prioritize reopening the education system first.

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz vowed he would expedite the opening of indoor shopping malls and other businesses despite the objections of the Health Ministry.

Elrai said that the rate in which coronavirus carriers infect others “is rising at a very fast pace, and not just in one population or another, but across populations.” She noted that among the non-Arab and non-chareidi populations, each patient infects an average of one other person; the Coronavirus Cabinet last month had decided that the next phase of reopenings would not occur until that number reached below 0.8.