Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday that the government would end the mandatory closure of shops and malls on weekends, arguing there was no indication the measure helped curb the spread of COVID-19.
“There’s no such thing as a half-pregnancy,” he said during a visit to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. “There’s no need for this, there’s no proof this helps anyone. In my opinion, aside from bothering the public it doesn’t achieve anything.”
Edelstein pledged that the government would work to create standard restrictions on various activities and sectors of the economy “as much as possible.”
Ministers last week had been expected to lift the closure order, which was part of a series of weekend lockdown measures approved by the cabinet in July, but did not do so. Many of the restrictions approved in July, such as barring Israelis from visiting beaches over the weekend and prohibiting eateries from serving patrons on site, had already been reversed by the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee despite government opposition.
Last week’s decision to push off ending the weekend closures altogether was reportedly due to opposition from ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, who want limitations on synagogues to also be eased. Though the closure was still in effect, many retailers opened their doors over the weekend in defiance of the restrictions.
In his remarks, Edelstein noted the average number of new COVID-19 cases per day hadn’t further risen.
“At the moment we’ve succeed in blocking the rise in the number of coronavirus patients… but we can’t live over time with these numbers,” he said, adding that it was necessary to lower the infection rate to prevent strain on hospitals.
According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 1,801 new coronavirus cases were recorded Monday and there have been 75,083 total cases since the pandemic began.
Of the 24,764 active cases, there were 349 people in serious condition, with 97 on ventilators. Another 139 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.
The Health Ministry reported eight more fatalities from COVID-19, bringing the national toll to 554.
Also Tuesday, the head of a doctors union warned that health workers could go on strike if a solution isn’t found to hospitals’ growing deficits. Hospital chiefs have said the need to set up facilities to treat COVID-19 patients and the canceling of many elective procedures has hurt their bottom lines.
“I hope it doesn’t come to this but if there’s no choice we’ll declare a labor dispute. I call on the Finance Ministry and government officials: Come to your senses, allocate the funds,” Dr. Zeev Feldman, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association World Fellowship, told the Ynet news site.
He also said hospitals faced a shortage of beds, a day after the Knesset Research and Information Center reported that only 19 beds have been added at medical centers since the start of the pandemic.
Ofer Marin, the director-general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, complained Monday that hospitals were being overwhelmed.
“The departments are completely full and we have no [medical] teams. We canceled operations yesterday. We sent home sick people who arrive. This is a disgrace,” Marin was quoted as saying by Channel 13 news.
Ehud Grossman, head of the department of internal medicine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, also painted a dire picture of his hospital’s current state.
“The departments are collapsing. Three wards have teams in quarantine and are overloaded. We don’t have a reserve of manpower,” he said.
Grossman added: “I’ve been a doctor for many years and I’ve never seen a situation like this in hospitals in Israel.”
Edelstein appeared to address some of this criticism on Tuesday, saying the Health Ministry would begin informing hospitals and health maintenance organizations of how many new doctors and nurses they would each receive. The National Nurses Union and Finance Ministry reached a deal last month to add 2,000 temporary nursing positions and 400 doctors’ positions following a daylong strike over manpower shortages.