Corona Cabinet Adjourns Without Decision on Exit

A man stands in front of a store shuttered due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions, at a mall in Petah Tikva, Israel February 11, 2021. (Reuters/Corinna Kern)

The coronavirus cabinet adjourned on Sunday after failing to reach decisions about the lifting of the current lockdown on schools and businesses.

Internal disputes over the pace of the exit plagued the ministers once again, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ argued for a go-slow approach while Defense Minister Benny Gantz pushed for a faster reopening.

The discussion was not apolitical.

Netanyahu started the meeting by proclaiming that the decision on reopening should be made without political considerations. “You see what happened the last time we listened to those who called for a swift opening, there must be no political considerations,” he said. “We need to reach five million vaccinated [before reopening].”

Gantz, who wants the first phase of the exit to start this week, accused Netanyahu of delaying it so that it will be closer to the March 23 elections, which he thinks will favor him, according to Ynet.

Gantz dismissed Netanyahu’s claims that calling for swift lockdown exit puts lives at risk. “I will not forgive you for saying that I am endangering human lives only because I did not agree with you … I have fought for the citizens of Israel all my life,” declared the former chief of the IDF.

Netanyahu retorted that he will not entertain “irrelevant” remarks at the cabinet meeting.

“We are seeing the beginning of a decline in infections and that is a good sign. However, we must be careful and open up the economy gradually. We must not push for a quick and irresponsible reopening, which would endanger the lives of many Israelis. We need a responsible plan,” the prime minister said.

They agreed to have another meeting on Monday, at which they would try to decide on what to do next.

Despite the bickering, some matters were resolved.

As reported earlier in the day, the Cabinet approved the Transportation Minister’s outline for flights to and from Israel during the closed skies period, which will allow up to 2,000 people per day to enter Israel by air.

Following a complaint from the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding exclusion of foreign flights while Israeli companies were running rescue routes for stranded Israelis abroad, a plan was advanced for allowing foreign flights as well, commensurate with the number of Israeli ones.

The ministers agreed to draft legislative amendments to provide Ben-Gurion International Airport inspectors with additional authority.

The Health Ministry was asked to prepare to respond to appeals to the exceptions committee in accordance with the above-mentioned numbers.

The Defense Ministry was told to prepare for quarantine in designated hotels in accordance with the projected numbers.

The Cabinet also approved the outline for involving local authorities in assisting the vaccines campaign. The Interior Minister will be authorized to utilize the local authorities in coordination with the Health Ministry and the HMOs in order to assist efforts to vaccinate the target population.

The Finance and Interior ministries were directed to attend to the budgetary aspects involved in utilizing the local authorities for this purpose.

“The outlines were approved in principle; the regulations will be approved when work on them is concluded,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office concluded.

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