Deaths rise to 512, as virus czar urges patience amid threats of defiance

1,791 new cases recorded in last 24 hours; MK Dichter goes into quarantine after being exposed to virus carrier who entered Knesset

Jerusalemites, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, shop at the Malha Mall in Jerusalem in Jerusalem on July 29, 2020.  (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Jerusalemites, wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus, shop at the Malha Mall in Jerusalem in Jerusalem on July 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Coronavirus cases in Israel rose by 1,791 in the past 24 hours and the national death toll hit 512, according to the latest Health Ministry figures released Friday evening.

The total case count stood at 70,970, with 320 patients in serious condition, including 98 on ventilators. The number of recovered patients reached 43,850.

As numbers continue to rise, newly appointed coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu urged retailers, who are threatening to violate a weekend closure, to be patient, saying most of their demands were “correct and justified.”

Israel’s retailers are pushing for the government to cancel a weekend lockdown and allow most stores to remain open, with some reportedly threatening to ignore virus regulations mandating they be shut.

Ministers are said to be on board with canceling the current restrictions, though a dispute on the timing means a weekend lockdown set to go into effect Friday afternoon will likely remain in place for one more week.

“We are acting from a desire to restore public faith. I call on everyone to be patient,” Gamzu said in a statement Friday.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaks at a press conference on July 28, 2020 (YouTube screenshot)

“In recent days I have received many appeals regarding changes to the economic restrictions,” he said. “Most of these requests are correct and justified. However, at the same time, the real desire to make corrections and the necessary changes can not be an excuse for making immediate and hasty decisions.”

Under current virus regulations, all non-essential stores must close between 5 p.m. Friday and 5 a.m. Sunday as part of a partial measure meant to curb the quickly spreading coronavirus while keeping the economy running for most of the week.

Gamzu met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday evening to discuss the possibility of lifting the government’s weekend restrictions on businesses after Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein agreed that partial lockdowns only caused economic damage without providing the health benefits of a full lockdown.

However, no decision was taken regarding this weekend due to disagreements between cabinet ministers on the matter, according to multiples reports.

The immediate lifting of the restriction was opposed by Science Minister Izhar Shay, who had suggested it, and by ultra-Orthodox ministers, who would like it to be accompanied with loosened rules on synagogues, according to Channel 12 news.

The package is set to be voted on only on Monday, the report said.

While most stores have been reopened since May, retailers say that their margins are too tight to allow them to be closed on weekends.

A cyclist passes a display window with mask covered mannequins at a dress store, Thursday, July 30, 2020, in McAllen, Texas. (AP/Eric Gay)

Much of Israel’s commercial activity is scaled back over the weekends due to the country’s laws on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, but many malls as well as places of entertainment remain open, including restaurants.

A letter sent to Netanyahu and other top officials signed by the heads of several of the country’s largest fashion chains on Wednesday urged the government to not delay the weekend rollback.

“It would be good if you made a decision to immediately cancel this unnecessary and illogical closure which has wreaked huge damage and destroyed us economically,” the letter reads, according to the Globes financial daily. “Pushing off the decision until early next week for technical reasons of religion or anything else, including restrictions from the Ninth of Av [the Jewish fast day that ended Thursday evening], will restore the sense of lack of trust and lack of logic in managing the crisis.”

This weekend coincides with the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, when many stores see increased turnout.

“Weekends make up 40% of my monthly revenues,” Avital Suwet, head of the Bogart clothing chain, told Channel 13 news. “That means if this continues, we will have to reshuffle the deck and unfortunately have another round of layoffs.”

Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, Avi Dichter, seen during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also Friday MK Avi Dichter announced that he was going to self-quarantine after coming into contact with a virus carrier who had entered the Knesset. The Walla news site said Public Security Minister Amir Ohana had also been in contact with the person but was not required to quarantine.

Israel has the fifth-highest number of new coronavirus infections per capita in the world, overtaking the United States, according to data compiled by a scientific publication based at Oxford University.

And while the country has seen the number of new coronavirus cases rocket to more than 2,000 a day in recent weeks, a new Hebrew University report published on Thursday asserted that Israel has managed to gain control of the second wave of the coronavirus, thanks to a recent stabilization in the number of seriously and moderately ill patients.

The curve for seriously and moderately ill patients began to spike in late June before stabilizing in recent days, the researchers reported. They credited the restrictions imposed by the government in recent weeks to limit crowding for helping to flatten the curve.

People wearing face masks market in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the report, the death toll will climb by roughly 200 in the coming three weeks as a result of the high infection rate over the past month.

Experts have blamed a too-speedy reopening and the lack of an effective contact-tracing program as main factors in the virus resurgence, which has come as new daily coronavirus cases around the world have also reached record highs.

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