Deputy health minister says Hanukkah curfew possible to battle rising infections

Yoav Kisch says there’s ‘logic’ to implementing measure for upcoming holiday when people gather at nightfall to light candles; ban on flights from Turkey reportedly being mulled

Sufganiyot on sale at Gagou de Paris bakery in downtown Jerusalem, ahead of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, on November 26, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Sufganiyot on sale at Gagou de Paris bakery in downtown Jerusalem, ahead of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, on November 26, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch on Tuesday said Israel may impose a national curfew to stem family visits over Hanukkah and Christmas, amid a continued rise in new coronavirus infections.

“[A curfew] doesn’t harm the economy, it harms the quality of life but it reduces the communal gatherings during these holidays,” he told Channel 12 news.

While health officials have previously cast doubt on the efficacy of nightly curfews in curbing the spread of COVID-19, Kisch said there’s a “logic” to such a measure over the holiday to prevent people gathering around nightfall to light candles.

It was unclear if the proposal had the backing of the cabinet, which has final say on any restrictions. Ministers have in the past rejected Health Ministry proposals for some lockdowns and other regulations.

Following the interview, Kisch put out a statement stressing no final decision on a curfew has been made.

Then-MK Yoav Kisch at the Knesset, on January 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

His comments came hours after coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said Israel was in a “state of emergency,” reacting to virus numbers that have begun to climb again after falling off in October and much of November.

“I agree 100 percent with the analysis of [Ash],” Kisch said. “My concern about the public isn’t complacence, but rather more burnout and fatigue and hearing about vaccines. It isn’t over.”

Separately, Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday approved deploying IDF Home Front Command troops to four Druze towns in the Golan Heights, which have some of the highest infection rates per capita in Israel.

Hundreds of soldiers will be stationed in Majdal Shams, Mas’ade, Buq’ata, and Ein Qiniyye, where they will perform 15,000 COVID-19 tests and distribute food to quarantined residents, a statement from his office said.

Illustrative: A woman stands next to a makeshift checkpoint in the Druze village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, on April 9, 2020. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Gantz also called for greater enforcement efforts to prevent Israelis from entering Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank, with some health officials pointing to travel there as a cause of high infection rates in Arab communities.

Last month, the Defense Ministry banned Israelis from visiting West Bank areas under PA jurisdiction.

Though accounting for only some 20 percent of Israel’s population, Arab Israelis have recently accounted for a disproportionally high number of new coronavirus cases. According to the Arab Emergency Committee, over 40% of infections since the start of the week were in Arab towns.

Along with weddings and travel to the West Bank, deputy coronavirus czar Ayman Saif has also attributed Israelis violating quarantine after returning from Turkey as a cause of the high infection rates among Arab Israelis.

According to Hebrew media reports Tuesday, the National Security Council is weighing an immediate halt to flights from Turkey, which on Monday announced sweeping new restrictions to combat a surge in COVID-19 cases.

A Turkish Airlines flight seen at the airstrip at Ben Gurion International Airport. February 26, 2015. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

According to the report, the possibility of halting flights to other locations may be explored as well. The other destinations were not detailed.

Earlier, the Health Ministry said 1,227 infections were diagnosed Monday, the highest daily number since October 19, underscoring a renewed rise in infections after the government rolled back many of the restrictions that were in place during the second nationwide lockdown.

It came after the country’s active cases on Monday night went above 10,000 for the first time in a month. Tuesday’s figures put that tally at 10,513, the highest since October 31.

The total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began stood at 337,373. The death toll stood at 2,865.

Israel has been gradually lifting the rules put in place two months ago, including sending high school students back to class on Sunday and allowing some shopping malls to reopen. On Tuesday, several museums reopened as part of a pilot program.

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