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Cabinet meeting on lifting lockdown delayed by a day, drawing ministers’ ire

Netanyahu speaks with mayors across the country, asks for their help in enforcing restrictions; urges against mass celebrations on upcoming Simchat Torah holiday

People wearing face masks walk through the largely shuttered Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on October 7, 2020, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People wearing face masks walk through the largely shuttered Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on October 7, 2020, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A meeting of the coronavirus cabinet to discuss easing a national lockdown ordered to curb rampant infections was delayed by a day from its scheduled date next week, the Ynet news site reported Wednesday.

The report cited the Prime Minister’s Office as saying that the purpose of the delay was to obtain better infection data on which the panel of ministers will base its decisions.

Rather than meeting on Monday, the forum of ministers tasked with forming policy to combat the virus will convene on Tuesday.

A health official reportedly told the website that a single day won’t make a difference to the information available for cabinet.

Unnamed coronavirus cabinet members were said to be fuming at the development.

“The delays in decision-making cause fatal and unnecessary damage to the economy in general and small businesses in particular,” a senior minister told Ynet on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video calling on Israelis to obey coronavirus lockdown rules, October 4, 2020. (Twitter screen capture)

Meanwhile Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a video conference call with some 200 mayors from across the country and appealed for their help in enforcing the lockdown, in particular during the Simhat Torah holiday, which falls this weekend, and which is usually celebrated by mass gatherings including dancing.

He urged that the holiday be celebrated without gatherings or the traditional hakafot, or rounds of dancing.

“Your mobilization as local leaders changes the picture,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu asked for the mayors to use their influence in applying the lockdown, by “preventing gatherings and mass participation in the hakafot on Simhat Torah and mass weddings.”

The prime minister also lamented that the public was not doing its part in being diligent about Health Ministry orders to prevent the virus spreading, such as the wearing of face masks.

“If I had 95 percent of the public who say they were wearing masks, really wearing masks, we would get much better results,” Netanyahu told the mayors, according to a report from Channel 12.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

National Security Council Meir Ben-Shabbat also spoke with the city council leaders and made a similar appeal to prevent events that are attended by masses of people, Ynet reported.

“There must be no weddings or mass celebrations in the period that starts just after the holidays,” he said. “It is a real danger and we need to be aware of it.”

Ben-Shabbat also said a solution had to be found to enable worshipers to pray in places where there is no covering, an indication that some of the lockdown measures, such as a ban on indoor prayer services, might continue into the winter.

Health Ministry figures released Wednesday showed the share of coronavirus tests coming back positive had fallen to its lowest level in weeks.

Of the 44,696 virus tests processed on the day before, 4,682 new coronavirus cases were confirmed.

The 10.5 percent positive rate was the lowest rate since September 19, the day after the start of a nationwide lockdown. Israel had seen the percentage rise as high as 15.1% in late September before the trend began to reverse.

The positivity rate is seen as a key metric for measuring the spread of the virus, given uneven day-to-day testing numbers. During the first wave of the virus, the country rarely saw a positivity rate of more than 3%, though reporting at the time was intermittent.

The total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic rose to 278,932, including 61,927 active cases — a figure that has also steadily declined in recent days.

Police officers patrol on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem during a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, on October 7, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The lockdown rules, under a government-declared “special coronavirus emergency,” bar Israelis from traveling more than a kilometer from their homes.

The law also limits indoor prayers at synagogues and visiting others’ sukkahs over the week-long Sukkot holiday, which began on Friday night.

Efforts by police to enforce the lockdown have met resistance from ultra-Orthodox community members who want to mark the Sukkot holiday as usual, and from anti-government demonstrators who oppose the restriction placed on their right to protest.

There have also been several incidents of senior figures, including a cabinet minister, the head of the Shin Bet internal security service, and the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, reportedly violating lockdown regulations on travel and hosting others.

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