Cabinet Holds Off on Tightening Restrictions

Business owners protest against an impending closure following the spread of Covid-19, in Tel Aviv, Sunday. (Flash90)

The coronavirus cabinet went to the brink of another shutdown of businesses on Sunday, but the ministers pulled back after over six hours of debate, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The cabinet had reportedly been poised to “tighten restraint,” after the country exceeded 2,500 new infections. Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash and the Health Ministry argued for reimposing restrictions, but the Finance Ministry and Blue and White ministers held the line for the time being.

Tightened restraint would entail closing shops, malls and marketplaces for three weeks. Gatherings would be limited to 10 people in closed spaces and 20 in open spaces. Public transportation will also be limited to 50% occupancy.

The education system would stay open in green and yellow cities, but would close in orange and red ones.

Ash warned at the meeting that without new restrictions, Israel would see between 1,340 and 1,900 seriously ill patients and between 3,085 and 3,700 deaths from COVID-19 in the next three months.

On the other hand, a strict closure for five weeks would mean 800 seriously ill patients and 1,250 additional deaths, and if a full lockdown were imposed for three weeks, there would be 700 seriously ill patients and 1,100 deaths.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that the main difference between “tight restraint” and a lockdown relates to the school system. “Harm would be done to commerce, but that’s money and not equivalent to education, which is why I prefer to leave education open to the degree possible,” he said, according to the Post.

Education Minister Yoav Galant said that schools should be kept open in all areas, including towns with relatively high infection rates, except for schools in which there are more than five confirmed cases among the students. Four percent of 60,342 people were infected in schools during the relevant period, he said. “That’s why I’m asking to keep the educational system open and close schools only after there are five infections.”

Meanwhile, approximately 220,000 fifth to 12th grade students in red and orange cities were told not to return to school on Sunday, while preschools through fourth grade were allowed to open.

Pressure to refrain from a third lockdown came on Sunday from a letter signed by over 100 doctors and medical personnel who argued that if proper precautions are taken the lockdowns are unnecessary.

“We, the doctors of the State of Israel, heavily protest the restrictions taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus, including lockdown, curfew, shutting down the education system…Part of our job is to stop this slippery slope that is robbing individuals of their rights and freedoms,” they wrote.

Small business owners, in particular, have decried the closures, and warn that more of the same would destroy them financially and harm the economy generally.

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