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Ahead of Yom Kippur, coronavirus czar apologizes for failing to avert lockdown

After 2 tumultuous months in his post, Ronni Gamzu specifically asks ultra-Orthodox for forgiveness, says restrictions would be tightened anyway during High Holidays

Ronni Gamzu at his office near the central Israeli city of Lod, September 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Ronni Gamzu at his office near the central Israeli city of Lod, September 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The leader of the government’s fight against the coronavirus, Ronni Gamzu, asked Sunday for forgiveness for failing to prevent a general lockdown.

In a Facebook post from the account of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital, which he manages, Gamzu apologized particularly to the ultra-Orthodox community following widespread claims that he has discriminated against that community, which has Israel’s highest infection rates.

The post came hours before the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, ahead of which many Jews apologize for their sins and misdeeds.

“At this time of forgiveness, I will ask it from every citizen in the State of Israel for not managing to prevent the full lockdown,” he said.

He apologized to those whose livelihoods were harmed, who cannot see their family and friends, and who had to give up vacations abroad or in Israel.

“A special sorry to the ultra-Orthodox community, which viewed my remarks and actions as offensive toward them and their customs,” Gamzu wrote. “Everything I said, recommended, or decided, stemmed from my attempt to prevent mortal danger in all Israeli communities.”

With social distancing, a soldier and ultra-Orthodox men pray ahead of Yom Kippur at the Western Wall, in Jerusalem, September 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

He said he regretted the fact that the Kol Nidre prayer on Yom Kippur eve will have to be held under lockdown and with severe restrictions on gatherings, but added that similar restrictions will likely be in effect around the world and that Israel would have anyway likely tightened restrictions for the High Holidays under any morbidity rate.

Gamzu added that much work remains, including strengthening the mechanism for cutting infection chains and better preparing the municipalities and local councils for handling enforcement of the rules.

Two months after his appointment, Israel is suffering from one of the world’s worst outbreaks and has entered a tough new lockdown. Sleeping just four hours a night, Gamzu has faced withering criticism from opponents, pushback from Israel’s notoriously fractious political leadership and the stark fact that the number of new cases shows no sign of declining.

In a wide-ranging interview last week with the Associated Press, Gamzu acknowledged the public’s frustration, accepting some of the blame, while also saying that the nonchalance of the population and government mismanagement had contributed to the chaos. Ultimately, he took responsibility for decisions that can affect lives and livelihoods.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry director-general said Sunday that he believed the country would not return to its pre-lockdown state immediately after the end of the Jewish holiday period, warning that Israel is “almost at the point of no return.”

Speaking to Army Radio, Chezy Levy slammed participants in Saturday night’s rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying they didn’t adhere to the ministry’s restrictions on gatherings.

“I am calling on everyone: Despite the right to protest, you must pull yourselves together,” he said. “We built an outline that enables outdoor protests in pods. Did what we saw last night stick to that outline?”

Levy said infection rates must go down before the restrictions are lifted. In recent days, the rate of positive test results has neared 15 percent. Levy said that figure must first go below 10%.

Netanyahu admitted Saturday that his government had made mistakes in emerging from Israel’s first national lockdown earlier this year.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on September 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Sunday that 5,855 new coronavirus infections were confirmed the day before, after it reported a record 8,373 new cases diagnosed on Friday. Testing levels are lower on weekends.

Updated numbers raised the death toll overnight from 1,441 to 1,450.

A new report by a military task force said the number of new confirmed cases per capita in Israel is the highest in the world. However, the country’s testing levels are particularly high, and there are some countries, like Brazil and Mexico, with far higher rates of positive test results.

The report also found that the number of patients in serious condition has multiplied by 10 in three months and reflects “an authentic rise in morbidity.”

As of Sunday morning, Israel had a total of 229,374 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, 68,788 of them active cases.

Medical staff wearing protective gear take a swab from a woman to test for the coronavirus, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on September 14, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition stood at 749, with 196 of them on ventilators. Meanwhile, 267 patients were in moderate condition, and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The ministry said 61,159 tests were conducted on Friday and 45,016 on Saturday. The share of positive tests was high, with a 12.5% positive rate on Thursday, 13.7% on Friday, and 13% on Saturday.

A sweeping new lockdown took force on Friday, though lawmakers were unable to reach an agreement over planned restrictions on protests and public prayers.

Under the new rules, nearly all businesses will be closed, with the exception of specific companies and factories designated as “essential” by the Defense Ministry’s National Emergency Authority, as well as grocery stores and food shops. Restaurants are permitted to operate on a home-delivery basis only.

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