Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Sunday the novel coronavirus will be around for years to come, but the worst had passed, in comments that appeared to break with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment.
Edelstein was asked by Channel 12 news about Netanyahu saying last week in an interview with Fox News that the COVID-19 crisis was largely over in Israel.
“I think that if we all act correctly, we certainly can say that due to vaccinations we will continue to live under the shadow of the coronavirus for years to come,” Edelstein said. “We haven’t won by a knockout, but we will certainly be able to say that crises of the kind we’ve experienced are behind us.”
The minister also said there would not be another lockdown before election day on March 23. He said that he hoped families would be able to celebrate the Passover holiday together at the end of the month.
“I very much hope we will be able to be with the whole family — up to 20 people indoors, as is the current limit. I am hopeful, and this is a hope with a pretty good basis… that with proper conduct [by the public], we will be able to avoid more lockdowns. I really do ask everyone to help us with this,” Edelstein said.
However, according to Channel 13, unnamed Health Ministry sources acknowledged that additional restrictions could be announced for the Passover holiday, a time when families traditionally gather in large numbers to celebrate. Last year, the government enacted a strict curfew on Passover Eve to prevent gatherings.
When questioned about the seeming disparity between warnings from coronavirus czar Nachman Ash and the government’s optimistic messaging, Edelstein insisted that he and the coronavirus czar “are coordinated on every move… he and I agree – as every sensible person understands – it depends on the public.”
But Edelstein did express deep misgivings about the decision to allow all Israelis to return to the country without express permits — with a daily cap of 1,000 people, expected to increase to 3,000 later this week.
“We did it with a heavy heart. It endangers us greatly,” Edelstein said, but “we cannot prevent an Israeli citizen from coming to Israel in order to vote.”
He stressed though, that “it was not a Health Ministry initiative. It’s not something we do with the same happiness and joy as opening hotels or restaurants.”
Much of the economy reopened Sunday as a national lockdown was further rolled back, including restaurants, cafes, school grades 7-10 in low- to medium-infection areas, event venues, attractions and hotels. Higher education institutions and religious seminaries were opened to vaccinated or recovered people and rules on gatherings and worship were relaxed.
Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, leaving thousands unable to return. Ben Gurion Airport has been shuttered for all but a few special flights by Israeli and some foreign airlines to bring back citizens who had been stranded abroad. On Saturday, the cabinet voted to nix the need for permits for returning Israelis, after criticism of the committee’s selection process and reports of impropriety and favoritism.