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‘Can’t sign off on that’: Top health official unsure of Netanyahu reopening plan

Sharon Alroy-Preis cites rising COVID-19 reproduction number and slowly declining number of severe patients in questioning PM’s timetable for normalcy by April

Head of public health services in the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, during an undated government meeting. (Knesset Spokesperson)
Head of public health services in the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, during an undated government meeting. (Knesset Spokesperson)

The head of public health in the Health Ministry, Sharon Alroy-Preis, distanced herself Thursday from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to reopen the economy by April, after vaccinating all Israelis over 16 by the end of March.

Israel this week eased many of its lockdown restrictions, opening stores and more schools, as well as recreational facilities for those vaccinated. As of Wednesday, one-third of the population was fully vaccinated and half had received at least one dose. The coronavirus infection rate, however, remain high, at over 4,000 a day.

Netanyahu on Wednesday specified five stages for “exiting from the coronavirus”: first, getting safely through the Purim period; second, in the second week of March, gradually opening the education system further; third, also in the second week of March, widening the “green pass” system; fourth, vaccinating all Israelis over 16 by the end of March; and thus, fifth, reaching “a full opening” of the country in April — shortly after the March 23 elections. He didn’t elaborate on what a full reopening would entail.

Alroy-Preis, however, said she could not sign off on the plan as presented by the prime minister. “I can’t sign off on reopening in a fortnight, or a month. It all depends on the contagion,” she told Army Radio. “I only sign off on things I know, [and] I don’t know what [the situation] will be in a month,”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (R) at a press conference in Ramat Gan on February 24, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershon/GPO)

“I look with worry at the reproduction number that is rising, and at the number of severely ill patients that is declining very slowly,” she continued, “If the party in Tel Aviv is an indication of how the people are acting, then we will definitely not be able to go back to normal in a month.”

The government is imposing a nightly curfew on Israelis on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, in order to stymie large parties during the Purim holiday period. According to tradition, walled cities celebrate the Purim holiday a day later than the rest, and Jerusalem is among that group. Thus, some level of Purim-related government restrictions were expected on Sunday evening as well.

“We’re thinking of whether we can have specific restrictions,” Alroy-Preis said. “It doesn’t seem proportional to place a nighttime curfew all over the country just because Jerusalem celebrates Purim on Sunday. We’re thinking of limiting [it to] Jerusalem alone and placing restrictions where we need to instead of restricting the whole country.”

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