Coronavirus cabinet to convene Sunday, for first time in month

Bennett to oppose fresh restrictions and limits on gatherings; since high-level forum last met in late-August, over 600 have died of COVID

A medic administers a COVID-19 rapid antigen test at a Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A medic administers a COVID-19 rapid antigen test at a Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The high-level coronavirus cabinet will convene on Sunday for the first time in a month, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly set to resist imposing any new coronavirus restrictions despite hundreds of new COVID deaths.

Ministers were summoned to a coronavirus cabinet meeting on Sunday at 6 p.m. The last time the forum was convened was in late August, before the school year began and ahead of the Jewish holidays.

Since the last coronavirus cabinet meeting, over 600 Israelis have died of COVID-19. The number of overall serious cases is slightly lower than then (760 on August 30, compared to 671 on Monday), though the number of ventilated coronavirus patients (222) remains at the highest levels since March. On Monday, government figures placed the basic reproduction rate of the virus, which measures transmission, at 0.7, indicating the spread had slowed.

While Israel’s fourth wave of infections has seen record numbers of daily cases, the number of patients needing hospitalization has remained lower than previous bouts, which experts attribute to the country’s high vaccination rates.

The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose Monday to 7,684.  September is the second consecutive month that Israel has recorded at least 500 deaths, after August saw 609 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

At the same time, ministry figures showed 3,208 new infections on Sunday, continuing a slow downward trend, though testing tends to decline sharply over the weekends. The testing positivity rate on Sunday was down to 4.26 percent.

Amid the mixed numbers, government and health officials have appeared to feud over imposing additional coronavirus restrictions, with Bennett reportedly deciding against further limitations on gatherings.

People on Jaffa street in downtown Jerusalem, on September 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meeting Saturday night with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, coronavirus czar Salman Zarka, Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash, and the directors of Israel’s health providers, Bennett reportedly said that proposed restrictions on gatherings would harm the economy and would not reduce morbidity.

“The government policy is an open Israel alongside an unrelenting and sophisticated war against the virus. Not quarantines, lockdowns, more and more restrictions, which is the easiest thing to do, but solutions,” Bennett said, according to the Ynet news site.

“I think about the patients, everyone in the coronavirus ward is a heartache, but I also think about the economy, the education, the parents who have to work and the children who have to study,” he reportedly said.

Bennett was said to have told the heads of Israel’s HMOs that their focus must continue to be pushing the vaccinations.

Over 6 million Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose, and more than 3 million have received the third booster.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks ahead of receiving his third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, on August 20, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Tensions between health officials and cabinet members have reportedly risen in recent days, as the officials have warned of the need for further restrictions on the public, which the ministers have resisted.

During a meeting last week, a government advisory panel reportedly urged ministers to reconsider their approach to the pandemic, calling for a policy putting greater emphasis on reducing serious morbidity and urging more limitations on gatherings.

But Hebrew University researchers also presented a study predicting the number of new cases will decline over the next 10 days, followed by a drop in serious cases, as updated Green Pass rules mandating booster shots take effect next month.

Sunday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting will come days after anyone who has not received a booster shot six months after getting a second vaccine dose will have their Green Pass revoked.

Also from October 3, teachers will require a Green Pass to enter schools. The date marks the start of the first full week back at school after the holiday period, which ends next week with the conclusion of the Sukkot festival.

Under the current Green Pass rules, entry to certain businesses and events is limited to those with proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19, or a negative test result.

The director-general of the Health Ministry, Nachman Ash, on Monday told hospitals and health providers that healthcare cannot be denied to those who don’t have a Green Pass.

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