Israel media review

Armageddon out of here: What the press is saying on October 15

It’s the end of the lockdown as we know it, or is it? News organizations report on a closure that may soon be a thing of the past, but battle remains before Israelis can roam free

Business owners protest against the ongoing nationwide closure in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2020. (Flash90)
Business owners protest against the ongoing nationwide closure in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2020. (Flash90)

1. Bye-bye lockdown? Ministers were set to meet Thursday for a summit regarded as crucial as they hash out a plan for lifting a nationwide lockdown.

  • Previewing the meeting Wednesday night, Channel 12 news noted that it would be heavily colored by the official Health Ministry data from that morning. And indeed the data on Thursday morning trends optimistic, with just over 2,000 new cases recorded Wednesday, in touching distance of that magic number for the first time in months (aside from times when testing figures fell off).
  • Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu tells Army Radio that even though a single day’s numbers are not enough to go off of, and he needs to double-check his math, he thinks it’s time to deploy the exit scheme and will tell the cabinet as much.
  • “According to this morning’s data there has been another drop in confirmed [carriers] and it is currently around 2,000,” Gamzu tells the station. “The positive rate is under 8%, and the basic reproduction number reached its goal. However, we need to consider the number of daily infections while looking several days back and see the daily average over at least a week.”
  • “I believe we will reach the target number, and that is what I will tell the cabinet,” he says. “We will have to double-check the numbers, but my opinion is that at the beginning of next week, we will definitely be able to take the first step in easing the restrictions.”
  • Kan reports that all the talk of lifting the lockdown has people thinking it’s already gone, with police reporting a large rise in noncompliance over the last day.
  • “Talk of the end of the lockdown is being felt on the street. There are more mass gatherings and people leaving homes against guidelines,” a police official is quoted saying. “Citizens feel that the lockdown is drawing to a close.”
  • Where would they get that idea? Perhaps the press, which appears to know what will happen — at least partially.
  • Channel 13 reports that the first easing of the rules will include lifting the 1 kilometer limit on travel, along with allowing some small businesses and preschools to reopen, and okaying takeout service from restaurants. A ban on visiting beaches and national parks will also be lifted, it says.
  • Yedioth Ahronoth, printing even before Wednesday’s numbers were published, reports that preschools will open on Sunday, though it says questions remain regarding the rest of the school system and it highlights the issue of testing for daycare staff.
  • “Despite the desire to make sure the caretakers are not infected, senior Health Ministry officials estimate that it will not be possible to test them consistently, since it is not implementable logistically, very expensive, and could run into legal problems. The estimation: Preschools will take place in any case without pods or small groups,” it reports.
  • Israel Hayom notes that grades 1-2 will also not be in pods, also known as capsules, and reports that experts are against the lack of pods, though it quotes only one: Prof. Ruth Calderon-Margalit, who also happens to be a frequent contributor to the paper. “Returning without capsules will greatly enlarge the scope of quarantines in the event of a confirmed case. There is room to expand classes to open-air venues and public buildings sitting empty and available for hosting educational activities,” she says.

2. Double-check the math: The numbers may look good to Gamzu, but Prof. Eli Waksman, who advises the government on the pandemic, tells Army Radio that “the numbers we have are not enough to meet the goals set. We are recommending that they decide on the opening according to goals, not dates.”

  • According to Channel 12, alongside the optimistic numbers is a more worrying one — 253, which is the number of people on ventilators, the highest it has been since the start of the outbreak.
  • Not mentioned by most news sites is a note from the military’s coronavirus taskforce which notes that the number of serious cases may be heavily undercounted over the past several weeks, which it infers from a statistical model that predicted with spooky accuracy the number of serious patients but has since broken down. (A Channel 12 report on an underground Haredi health system may offer one possible explanation for the gap.)
  • Haaretz notes that “The figures are encouraging, but the Health Ministry is worried that they will obviate the bitter lessons of the exit from the first lockdown, which together with economic and social damage and the pressure that comes with it – will lead to a significant change in the plan and a hurried exit from lockdown.”

3. Red dead redemption: Aside from schools, the continued lockdown of so-called red cities — high infection areas — is another bone of contention.

  • “We will insist on a gradual, slow exit, one step at a time, in keeping with the plan and based on the infection rates,” the head of the ministry’s public health services, Dr. Sharon Alroi-Preiss, tells Haaretz. “It must be understood that to implement the exit plan, there will have to be closures on red cities. We aren’t talking about just closure of the city from the outside – no one in or out, but also closure within the city itself. Closure is not a punishment. The meaning of a red city is that these cities will receive the greatest help possible to limit infection.”
  • Channel 12 news notes that the list of red cities is currently made up of Modiin Illit, Bnei Brak, Rechasim, Beitar Illit, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Malakhi, and some Jerusalem neighborhoods, which it says account for 11.7 percent of the population. No longer on the list since Wednesday are Netivot, Or Yehuda, Ramle and Ofakim.
  • “The population of the red cities may only make up a small portion of the country’s population, but it is responsible for 40% of infections,” the station says.
  • “Or Yehuda out, the Haredim remain,” reads a headline from Ynet, noting the demographic makeup of most of the remaining red cities.
  • “The positive trend we started a few days continues, and this morning we are somewhere between orange and yellow on the traffic light plan,” the outlet quotes the mayor of Or Yehuda saying. “Just like we stayed cool and calm when we were red, we can’t celebrate our current position.”
  • Walla notes that Ashdod, with a large ultra-Orthodox community, is also no longer on the list.
  • Kan, however, publishes video which shows people moving into a yeshiva there, with no masks or social distancing.
  • And Walla puts up a video that it says is from a wedding of the grandson of a major rabbi in Jerusalem, with hundreds crowded in a hall, and not a single mask in sight.
  • “They are placing their own lives in danger. They are placing others’ lives in danger. But still more inexplicably, if that’s even possible, they are contradicting the values they say they most revere and hold sacred. In so doing, they are committing hillul haShem, desecrating the Lord’s name,” writes ToI’s David Horovitz.

4. Talking business: There are also businesses and other pet issues that some are pushing for.

  • Kan reports that some 6,500 businesses and 35 shopping centers are planning to open Sunday no matter what, according to an industry organization.
  • Those who can’t wait are protesting by throwing their merchandise into the street in Tel Aviv and setting fire to it.
  • “We have a collection of dresses that’s just going in the trash. Now the winter collection is coming, the money is gone, the workers are home, we have small kids at home, we have workers. The bank is calling for answers, what are we supposed to tell them. There’s nothing we can do with the merchandise,” one business owner tells Channel 12 news.
  • Meanwhile Haaretz reports that the numbers tell a different story: “While a stroll through Israel’s commercial streets is enough to see that the number of shuttered businesses has increased significantly, tax Authority data actually reveals that the number of businesses that shut down between January and September actually decreased 33% from the parallel period in 2019.”
  • “If an economist with foresight had developed a Kvetch Volume Index at the start of the coronavirus crisis it would be showing far sharper increases than the declines we have seen in the actual measures of economic activity,” columnist David Rosenberg writes for the paper.
  • Globes writes about Israel-based Taboola, which tracked the mood of its 1,400 employees here and around the world throughout the pandemic and shared some of the results.
  • “Over the period what interested the workers changed,” the COO tells the paper. “In the first weeks, we saw mostly fear, existential questions about health and if the company will force them to come to the office. After some time, there was a second stage, when questions started about business security and the company’s status, ‘will we have jobs?’ ‘will they lower our pay?’”

5. Married to the mob: Channel 13 reports that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri is pushing for weddings of up to 200 people to be okayed, with capsules of 20 people each, putting a lot of faith into people.

  • “According to Deri’s demand, what he called the ‘Jewish life cycle’ should be allowed, in open areas, with social distancing and no touching or eating,” the channel reports. It adds that events with food would be capped at 40 attendees by his plan.
  • This comes after police raided a backyard wedding near Jerusalem, leading to a bloody brawl and setting off a round of condemnation and wide press coverage. Police and the family of the bride have offered contradicting versions of what happened, with officers saying they were attacked as they shut down the wedding celebrations in the West Bank settlement of Givat Ze’ev, while the family claimed cops violently stopped what they said was an event that met regulations that limit gatherings to 20 people.
  • “They busted the face of the bride’s brother,” her uncle tells Israel Hayom, which terms the incident a “tragedy.”
  • He also says that “the wedding was in capsules from four until 10 at night. It was all according to the law. … It was only when the cops showed up that there was crowding.”
  • Hadar Kako, who showed up at the wedding first to hand out a ticket, tells Ynet that she was attacked when she asked the homeowner for ID.
  • “The mom yelled at her husband not to give any details and grabbed my phone. I took it back and she pushed me. She said to me you don’t know who you are messing with, you have no idea what I can do to you.”
  • Speaking to Channel 12, the father of the bride says the only people at the wedding were the “most nuclear family.” Faced with pictures and videos showing dozens of people, he claims “I have pictures too, showing more police than attendees.”
  • Army Radio reports that Shas MK Yakov Margi urged Deri to quit the coalition “until the police commander involved in the pogrom is fired,” but swiftly deleted the tweet, replacing it with one in which he says he will vote against the peace deal with the UAE and “demand the police commander involved in the pogrom be fired.”
  • “I should have gone to extreme lengths in order to pour cold water on the fire,” he tells the station, explaining the deletion. “I’m worried over what will happen next week, thousands of Haredim will go out to protest.”
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