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Health minister: No chance lockdown will end after holidays

Edelstein says exit from closure will be slower than during first wave, reaffirms backing for legislation to limit protests ahead of Knesset discussions

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during a visit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during a visit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday that he expects the national lockdown to last beyond when it is currently set to end — in a week and a half — and that in contrast to the first wave, the strict regulations will be lifted slowly.

“There is no chance that the lockdown will be lifted in a week and a half, immediately after Simhat Torah — unequivocally. There is no scenario that in ten days we will lift everything and say, ‘Everything is over, everything is fine,'” Edelstein told the Kan public broadcaster.

“We’ve seen the lessons from the first wave of illness, and this time the exit from the lockdown will be done gradually and responsibly,” Edelstein said.

According to Channel 12 news, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes the national lockdown could be extended to last for around a month in an attempt to contain the surging outbreak.

Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto at a press conference about the coronavirus, May 29, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy and his deputy, Itamar Grotto, have both also said that they do not believe Israel will have the virus outbreak under control by October 11 and that they expect the lockdown will have to be extended.

“There may be slight changes after three weeks, here or there, but the closure will last longer because there’s nothing we can do — we need a longer period to lower the numbers,” Grotto told the Ynet news site on Tuesday.

Edelstein also reaffirmed his backing for the expected renewal of discussions by the Knesset on legislation banning large demonstrations and further restricting public prayer as part of the lockdown, saying that protesters must find different ways to make their voices heard.

People protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on September 26, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It will end in thousands more patients and in more serious patients in hospitals. There must be responsibility. Nothing will happen if people find other ways to protest. It is their right, but it can be done without gathering and breaking all the rules,” Edelstein said.

Protestors massed outside the home of Edelstein and other ministers on Monday evening, ahead of the expected advancement of the legislation in the Knesset on Tuesday.

Demonstrations against the prime minister over his alleged corruption as well as his scathing attacks on the justice system have become a regular occurrence in recent months, with rallies held several times a week, and major events every Saturday.

But the protests have become a contentious issue as virus cases have grown, with the premier and others disparaging the mass gatherings amid fears of infection.

The Haaretz newspaper reported that the Blue and White party would likely support legislation to limit the protests, so long as Netanyahu’s Likud pulls certain provisions it had added at the last moment Friday in an effort to make the limitations more stringent.

The law will prevent people from demonstrating more than a kilometer away from their homes.

Organizations demonstrating against the government said they were planning to send convoys of vehicles to Jerusalem on Tuesday to protest the legislation.

Drivers in a convoy protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu head to Jerusalem on Route 1, September 26, 2020, during a nationwide lockdown (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In a statement released by his office on Monday evening, Netanyahu set out a numbered list of items to be discussed when the so-called coronavirus cabinet convenes on Wednesday, with the health system’s preparations to treat 1,500 gravely ill patients by Thursday, October 1, at the top of the list.

The number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients stood at 755 Tuesday morning, and it was not immediately clear why it was feared that number would double within two days.

The coronavirus cabinet will also discuss setting goals and indicators for a gradual emergence from Israel’s second national lockdown, progress in vaccines and the purchase and use of rapid COVID-19 tests.

Ministers will discuss the status of the country’s enforcement of the regulations, as well as increasing fines and sanctions for those found violating restrictions.

The cabinet will also discuss the use of digital tools to combat the pandemic, as well as a focused campaign on the wearing of masks and maintaining social distancing.

People ride their bicycles on an empty road in Jerusalem, on Yom Kippur, September 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also in the works are talks about the education system and plans to return to school, as well as assistance programs to the elderly.

Israel’s coronavirus death toll passed 1,500 on Monday night, the latest Health ministry data showed, with over 500 new deaths recorded in some three weeks.

The death toll stood at 1,507 on Tuesday morning, as new diagnoses and seriously ill patients remained on the rise as did the percentage of tests coming back positive.

Israel had a total of 233,554 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with 65,025 active cases, 755 of them serious, and 283 in moderate condition.

Hospital team members in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 23, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Of those in serious condition, 207 required ventilation.

Due to the Yom Kippur holiday, test numbers were very low Monday, with 8,105 carried out, compared to some 50,000-60,000 daily tests over the past week. But the percentage of positive virus tests remained on the rise, standing at 14.8 percent Monday.

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