President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday apologized to Israelis for the government’s failure to contain the coronavirus pandemic, as the country geared up to enter a three-week lockdown amid a surge in few infections and COVID-19 deaths.
“I know that we have not done enough as a leadership to be worthy of your attention. You trusted us and we let you down,” Rivlin said in a televised address to the nation from the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Plans for the lockdown, regarded by most officials as a deeply unpopular but necessary step given skyrocketing infection rates, have been dogged by questions about their effectiveness, with some threatening to disregard the restrictions and others complaining of unclear, erratic or illogical guidelines.
On Wednesday morning, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said he did not think the measure would significantly stem the morbidity rate, noting the prevalence of loopholes and exceptions.
Rivlin said he understood the anxiety felt by Israelis by the upcoming closure and the often contradictory rules intended to curb the virus’s spread. He again apologized for celebrating Passover with one of his daughters, despite a strict curfew on the country at the time aimed at preventing family gatherings.
“My loneliness is no more painful than the loneliness that many of you — who were so careful to follow the word and the spirit of the instructions — experience,” the president said.
The upcoming lockdown will begin Friday at 2 p.m., hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah, and remain in effect through Yom Kippur and Sukkot, ending on October 9 after Simhat Torah. The nationwide closure will include strict limitations on movement, economic activity, gatherings and see the shuttering of the education system, as well as other restrictions meant to combat the pandemic.
Rivlin said Israelis have paid a “high price, a real price” for the measures against the virus, noting the closure of synagogues over Passover, mosques during Ramadan and military cemeteries on Memorial Day. He also hinted at the economic cost to those whose livelihoods have been affected by the virus restrictions.
“You, the citizens of Israel, deserve a safety net that the country gives you. Decision-makers, government ministries and those who implement policy must work for you and only for you. To save lives, to reduce infection, to rescue the economy. I understand the feeling that none of these were done satisfactorily,” he said.
Rivlin warned Israelis would now “pay the price again” as the lockdown comes into force, while calling on the government to regain the public’s trust for its efforts against the virus.
“I want to say to the government of Israel –- its leaders, ministers and advisors: the trust of the people is beyond value. We must do everything to restore personal, medical and economic confidence to our fellow citizens,” he said. “This is a second chance and we must take it because we will not, I fear, get a third one.”
He urged Israelis not to blame specific communities for the pandemic, a reference to outbreaks in densely populated Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, as well as claims that protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were a significant source of infections.
“We will not prevail through finger-pointing and toxic accusations. Only together. We were destined to live together, to share the good years and the tough years, to build and to develop this land,” Rivlin said.
The president also urged Israelis to band together to defeat the virus.
“I believe in this people; I believe in our ability to prevail. I would like to ask you to believe in this people’s ability to prevail. This is the time to follow the instructions, to take care of yourselves and those dear to you, to join hands to help those around you in need of assistance,” he said.
Israel won plaudits for its initial response to the pandemic, but since reopening schools and the economy has seen a continued rise in new cases and deaths, with a marked surge in infections and fatalities in recent months.
On Tuesday, Israel set a daily high of 5,494 new cases in a day.
According to the latest Health Ministry figures, there have been a further 2,547 cases confirmed since midnight, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 169,352.
A record 551 were in serious condition.
The ministry also reported 16 deaths since midnight, raising the national toll to 1,163.