Netanyahu: Goal is to buy time before vaccines arrive

Experts warn nightly curfew will do little to curb virus spread

Adviser to government says it ‘makes sense’ to try the move but it’ll likely be ineffective; virus czar warns plan means Israel ‘will enter a full lockdown in early January’

Police officers set up a checkpoint in a neighborhood of the northern town of Hatzor Haglilit that was designated a 'restricted zone' due to high coronavirus morbidity,' November 8, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)
Illustrative: Police officers set up a checkpoint in a neighborhood of the northern town of Hatzor Haglilit that was designated a 'restricted zone' due to high coronavirus morbidity,' November 8, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Experts warned Tuesday that a nightly curfew approved by ministers a day earlier,  for the Hanukkah holiday and through January 2, will not be effective at reducing runaway virus infection rates around the country.

Prof. Arnon Afek, a member of the panel of professionals that advises the so-called coronavirus cabinet, said that while it seemed reasonable to give the measure a try, he had little hope it would achieve the desired result.

“At the end of the day, we try to balance all of the considerations — health on the one hand and, on the other, the economy and people’s lifestyles,” he told the Ynet news site, noting that full lockdowns, while “effective” at curbing the virus, also inflicted “very heavy damage” in other areas.

“I think it makes sense to try a nightly curfew,” said Afek, who is the deputy director of Sheba Medical Center. “Do I think it will work? I’m afraid not. We may end up at a full lockdown, but at least we’ll have proven to all those people who are hurt by it that we made every effort [to avert it],” he said.

Prof. Arnon Afek of Sheba Medical Center (Shai Pereg).

The three-week curfew is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, a day before the holiday. The curfew would begin in the evening, around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., and end in the early morning, around 5 a.m or 6 a.m, according to Channel 12.

Israelis would be banned from venturing beyond a certain distance from their homes during those times, the network said.

Dr. Yoav Yehezkeli, a public health expert at Tel Aviv University, also expressed doubts about the usefulness of nightly restrictions.

“A curfew has not been proven to work in any place bringing down morbidity or death,” he told Army Radio. “The decision-makers are only looking at the coronavirus and not at public health in a wider sense.”

Ayman Seif, the deputy coronavirus czar in charge of the Arab community, told the Kan public broadcaster that “a nightly curfew should contribute some amount to lowering morbidity. Its efficacy is under doubt — but the desire is to prevent a general nationwide lockdown.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday morning that the goal of the curfew was to avert a full lockdown and buy time for the effects of a national vaccination campaign to be felt.

“Starting tomorrow, we will implement a plan whose goal is to reduce morbidity while trying to avoid a lockdown,” he said in a briefing to reporters. “It is also important to understand that the end is in sight. The vaccines will arrive very soon, already in the coming days, but as in war, people must not die in vain.”

A previous initiative to impose a nightly curfew, in mid-November, was scrapped by Netanyahu, who, amid strong pushback from health officials and ministers, conceded that the move would be ineffective.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash, too, expressed hesitation about imposing a nightly curfew. “We cannot know if a nightly curfew will be effective; it only delays the inevitable,” Ash was quoted by the Walla news site as saying during a previous meeting of the coronavirus cabinet Sunday evening.

During Monday’s meeting, he said approving a curfew was tantamount to “stating unequivocally that we will enter a full lockdown in early January,” Army Radio reported.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash during a visit at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Indeed, under the plan approved by the ministers on Monday, if infection rates do not drop by December 20, and new daily cases climb to 3,500, stores and other businesses that customers visit will be closed. Furthermore, should the number of cases continue to rise, topping 4,500 per day by January 2, Israel would enter its third nationwide lockdown.

According to an Army Radio report, the cabinet secretary shut down the debate and then held a vote on the curfew, telling concerned senior health officials who were present to take their concerns over the measure’s effectiveness to Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. The meeting came amid a resurgence of the virus and ahead of the eight days of Hanukkah, when health officials are concerned that gatherings will contribute to the virus’s spread.

Ministers were reportedly split on the plan, with Likud’s Finance Minister Israel Katz and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz backing it, while Blue and White’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi called it “problematic” and Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen, also of Blue and White, argued that it was unenforceable.

Israel imposed its second nationwide lockdown in mid-September over the High Holidays, and it remained fully in place until mid-October, when the government began to gradually lift the rules. It has yet to lift all of the restrictions imposed at that time.

Healthcare workers take test samples from Israelis to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus in Lod, on December 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus cases in almost two months on Monday, as runaway infections upended the country’s gains during its second national lockdown and threatened to bring a third crashing down.

There were 1,837 new cases of the virus diagnosed on Monday, the Health Ministry said Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections since the outset of the pandemic to 347,331.

The last time Israel had more than 1,800 daily cases was on October 10, when it was still at the height of its second lockdown. Israel has seen daily case tallies nearly double in the last two weeks, according to a report from the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center.

The number of active carriers stood at 13,949, of whom 315 were in serious condition, and the death toll was 2,924.

The positivity rate for test results coming back Monday was 2.8 percent of 65,523 tests conducted, a rise over last week, when that figure was closer to 2% on average. On Monday, the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said the average positivity rate over the previous seven days was 2.6%.

Ash, the virus czar, presented a grim projection during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, saying that at the current rate, new daily cases will grow from 1,500 to about 7,400 in just three weeks. That would mean a wave of infections similar in its severity to the country’s second wave between August and October.

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