Edelstein says social distancing to be enforced as strictly as traffic laws

As infections spike, health minister says ‘dramatic’ renewed outbreak is due to disregard of rules; sets goal of 30,000 coronavirus tests per day

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, May 31, 2020. (Flash90)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, May 31, 2020. (Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warned Tuesday that the renewed coronavirus outbreak was quickly becoming a “dramatic event” and said that to prevent it without reimposing a nationwide lockdown, enforcement of social distancing rules would have to be as strict as the enforcement of traffic rules.

“Whoever walks around without a face mask is like someone driving at a speed of 160 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour),” Edelstein said during a tour of medical centers in the southern Negev region.

“In the entire year of 2019 there were 349 fatalities in traffic accidents. Over the last three months 298 people have been killed by the coronavirus and over 18,000 contracted it,” he said. “You can do your own math.”

The government on Monday evening reported 179 new coronavirus infections over the previous 24 hours, the highest daily toll since late April.

The number of active virus cases, which had been steadily decreasing and dipped below 2,000 last month as recoveries outpaced new infections, has now surged to 2,620.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (center) during a tour of Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, June 9, 2020. (Health Ministry/courtesy)

“We are heading rapidly toward more than 200 patients a day,” said Edelstein at Soroka hospital in Beersheba. “After we were at a lull, the disregard of regulations caused this spike. There is no magic involved: If you treat the instructions as recommendations, the coronavirus won’t leave us. It’s that simple.”

Edelstein also highlighted the importance of further increasing the number of daily tests, which have reached a high of 16,000 in recent days.

“Our goal is to do more than 30,000 tests per day,” he said.

After labs have warned they cannot deal with the number of tests they have to handle due to a shortage of manpower, Edelstein said the ministry was in negotiations to create 200 more posts for employees of health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

The jump in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks has seen Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing Monday that the government would halt the further easing of restrictions.

Health officials have attributed much of the recent rise in new cases to schools, which reopened in May after a two-month closure.

A cleaning workers disinfects a classroom at the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on June 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government last week decided against closing all schools, but said it could use targeted closures anywhere a coronavirus case is found. Students and teachers are required to wear face masks and are supposed to keep to strict hygiene practices.

Netanyahu on Sunday lamented what he called a “serious slackening in observing the rules” aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus, warning that Israel was still at grave risk from the pandemic, and imploring the public to do more to contain the country’s resurgent outbreak.

On Saturday, Channel 12 news reported that the outgoing director-general of the Health Ministry had urged senior staff to operate under the assumption that the country is in the midst of a fresh coronavirus outbreak, while acknowledging that the magnitude of this “second wave” was unknown. However, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov denied making the comments and told the network a second wave was not inevitable, “if we operate properly.”

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