Health officials warned Sunday that a mass protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s economic policies amid the pandemic could cause a spike in new cases of the virus, due to the demonstrators’ failure to heed social distancing rules.
“Even while understanding the pain and concern of the protesters — it is a dangerous gathering that I fear will see results in the coming days in the number of people infected,” Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy told Army Radio.
“It is quite clear that the demonstration is a large gathering with no compliance with the regulation to prevent infection and the transmission of the virus from person to person,” Levy added.
The Saturday night protest, the largest demonstration in Israel since the start of the pandemic, was held as the country copes with a surge in new coronavirus infections, leading the government to reintroduce tight restrictions on gatherings and economic activity.
Earlier Sunday, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch condemned the protest of some 10,000 people as a “health terror attack.”
Kisch, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, said he recognized “the extent of the economic crisis,” but said he was committed to preventing gatherings to curb the spread of the virus.
“We’re doing everything to prevent gatherings and are paying a high price (socially and economically) in order to stop the virus and then [we] see images from the square yesterday. A mega health terror attack,” he wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein filed a complaint Sunday against a doctor at Soroka hospital in Beersheba, who called on protesters coming to the rally not to bring their cellphones to avoid potential virus quarantine.
Prof. Ruthy Shaco-Levy, head of the Israeli Pathologists Association and head of the hospital’s Department of Pathology, published a Facebook post ahead of the rally saying: “Whoever comes tonight to the protest and doesn’t want to enter a 14-day quarantine tomorrow, do yourself a favor and leave your phone at home!!!”
Authorities are fighting potential infections by tracking cellphones and ordering people to self-isolate if they were near a COVID-19 patient.
Issuing a “clarification” on her post following the complaint, Shaco-Levy wrote on Facebook that “the post I shared here could have been interpreted as if I was calling to behave in violation of Health Ministry orders… That wasn’t the intention, and I apologize if that is how it was understood.”
She did not, however, provide details on what she did intend to say in her post.
Saturday’s protest came as Israel faces unemployment of some 21 percent, or 850,000 people, with many saying they are fearful for their future and with numerous businesses facing collapse.
There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy whose members say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.
Jobless Israelis say government promises of financial support in recent months through grants, unemployment stipends and various other aid mechanisms have in some cases failed to come through and in others proven woefully inadequate in addressing their plight.
Israel unveiled a financial assistance program for small business owners last week.
The Health Ministry on Sunday morning reported 749 new coronavirus cases overnight, with four additional fatalities from COVID-19 bringing the death toll in Israel to 358. According to ministry figures, there are 18,940 active infections, including 1,148 new cases recorded Saturday. With the latest rise, the number of active cases again overtook the number of Israelis who have recovered from the virus, which stood at 18,915.