Yuval Carmi, the falafel seller who became a symbol of the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel, was hospitalized on Sunday due to a heart attack.
The Ashdod store owner’s tearful account of financial ruin amid the crisis brought a news crew to tears last month, sparked an outpouring of public support, and even prompted a personal phone call and vow to help from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Carmi on Sunday arrived at the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot with chest pains and was taken for emergency treatment shortly before the heart attack, Channel 13 reported.
“Thank God, they made a new man of me. They saved me,” Carmi told the network.
Carmi’s doctor said that the heart attack was related to the stress he had experienced in the past two months.
While Carmi was thankful for the show of support for his business since the interview, he also told of related negative reactions.
“I came to the ER. Someone came up to me, his wife recognized me and said ‘Hello.’ Her husband came up and asked her, ‘Do you know him?’ She said, ‘Yes, it’s the crybaby from the television,'” Carmi said. “It hurt me. My heart exploded.”
He said he had been subject to derision and accusations on social media following the interview, with some saying he had put on a show for the cameras to drum up business.
“My wife and children every evening would come home and cry, and see everything that was written about us on Facebook, that we’re rich and that ‘he’s a liar and a cheater,’” Carmi said Sunday.
In an emotional interview in April, Carmi described the personal toll caused by virus lockdown restrictions that shuttered his store and pleaded for government help.
“Look at my wallet, it’s empty,” Carmi said in the interview, pulling out his wallet. “I don’t have a shekel in my pocket… I’m embarrassed to face my children, to tell them I have nothing I can buy for you. I have nothing to give them. I have nothing to give them to eat. I don’t know what to do,” he said, crying and then apologizing for his tears.
The following day, Netanyahu called Carmi, saying, “I saw you yesterday [on TV] and you touched my heart.”
“And I’ll help you. We’re going to help everyone. You have reached deep into my heart and the hearts of Israeli citizens,” Netanyahu said.
In a video of Netanyahu taken during the phone call and distributed by his office, Carmi could be heard thanking the premier and refraining from directly placing the blame on him.
“I am not making my claims against you but against your advisers,” he said. “Apparently they are not telling you what’s going on with the people.”
Carmi was asked in April why he didn’t run deliveries — collection by customers was not permitted at the time — and explained that he was not set up to do so, and that falafel has to be eaten hot and fresh.
Amid a sustained drop in infections, the government has in recent weeks increasingly rolled back restrictions meant to curb the outbreak, including by gradually reopening schools. More such measures are reportedly in the works.
Restaurants could be released from coronavirus shutdown orders by the end of the week, following an agreement between the economy and health ministries. Current pandemic regulations, which have been in place since mid-March, mandate that eateries prepare food for delivery or takeaway only.
The aim is to open restaurants before the coming Shavuot holiday, which begins on Thursday night next week.
The Health Ministry had previously mulled giving the go-ahead for opening restaurants and cafes for regular business only at the end of the month.
According to reports Sunday, officials are still working on the details of a “purple badge” for restaurants, a government standard that certifies businesses work according to required hygiene regulations during the outbreak.
Outgoing economy and industry minister Eli Cohen confirmed the reports on Sunday, saying in a statement that an agreement had been reached to “bring forward the opening of restaurants and cafes” amid recent low infection rates.
Cohen, who was sworn in as intelligence minister later in the day under the new unity government deal, said opening restaurants will immediately bring tens of thousands of employees back to work. He called for accelerating plans to completely remove remaining lockdown restrictions from the economy.
The decision to move forward came after the Health Ministry realized it would face unbearable pressure to approve opening restaurants after many other lockdown measures were already lifted, reports said. Schools and gyms have been reopened, with beaches set to open later this week.
Along with restaurants and cafes, restrictions will also be lifted from hotels.
On Saturday, a number of restaurants across Israel opened their doors to the public, allowing patrons to enjoy their meals in outdoor seating areas in defiance of the pandemic regulations.
Israel’s news channels called the move a low-key rebellion, as many eateries have struggled to survive and have not received clear indication when they might reopen. Owners have also pointed to problems caused by regulations that permit customers to eat on an adjacent bench, but not a table supplied by an eatery.
Last week, the Economy Ministry reportedly presented health officials with a plan to reopen restaurants that would require businesses to adhere to strict hygiene guidelines as well as social distancing.
The number of new infections has slowed dramatically in recent weeks. Israel has gone 14 days without seeing over 100 new confirmed cases in a single day.
The Health Ministry said Sunday evening that just 10 people were diagnosed with the virus in the past 24 hours while 76 had recovered during the same period. The death toll stands at 272.
A total of 16,617 Israelis have been diagnosed with the COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, of whom 12,942 have recovered.