Interior minister says only nationwide lockdown can stem virus spread

Shas’s Aryeh Deri blasts plan to declare local closures in ‘red’ areas, many of which are heavily ultra-Orthodox

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Knesset building, on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri in the Knesset building, on March 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri came out Saturday night against the planned lockdowns in cities with high rates of coronavirus infections and claimed only nationwide closure could reduce the number of new COVID-19 cases per day.

“No one has succeeded in bringing down the numbers with another method,” Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told Channel 12 news.

The localized lockdowns, which are set to begin Monday, are part of coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu’s “traffic light” plan to differentiate between areas based upon their per capita infection rates. Many of the localities where the new restrictions will take effect are majority-Arab and -ultra-Orthodox areas.

“The plan isn’t the cure, it’s a tool for managing the crisis,” said Deri, who leads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

He said a nationwide lockdown will soon come into effect and that ministers will convene Thursday to decide on the matter. Deri also asserted that localized ones are more difficult to enforce than a general one.

Asked during the interview whether he backs Gamzu, who has faced heavy criticism from some ultra-Orthodox lawmakers and members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netayanhu’s Likud party, he said: “I didn’t appoint him, the prime minister did. I give him backing all the time, I didn’t personally say a single bad thing about him. The Interior Ministry under my leadership is doing everything to help him… I pray he’ll succeed.”

An Orthodox Jewish talmudic seminary student wearing protective gear prays at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 3, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussil/Flash90)

Deri’s comments came as Israel passed the grim landmark of 1,000 deaths due to the novel coronavirus, according to the Health Ministry, becoming the 49th country in the world to do so.

In all, 14 new deaths were recorded over Shabbat, all but two of them on Saturday, bringing the number of people in Israel to have succumbed to COVID-19 to 1,007.

The number of new cases also continued to show no signs of slowing, with official numbers showing 2,349 new infections between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, even on lower testing numbers.

The ministry said there were 2,613 new cases from midnight to midnight Friday, a slight drop from the record of over 3,000 new daily cases notched earlier in the week. In total there have been 128,936 cases since the start of the pandemic, 26,448 of which are active.

There were 439 patients hospitalized in serious condition, of whom 128 were being treated with ventilators, the Health Ministry said.

Over 200 new cases were recorded in Jerusalem alone, which on Friday became the first city to pass 20,000 infections in Israel, nearly double the next highest city, Bnei Brak.

Israel has struggled to contain the second wave of the coronavirus, and officials have begun to increasingly consider localized lockdowns in high infection areas.

According to figures aired Thursday by Israeli television, Israel has the highest rate of new infections per capita in the world, by weekly average.

Health Ministry director Chezy Levy said Friday that a nationwide lockdown to stem the spread of the virus was still on the table. According to a report carried by Channel 12 news Saturday night, Netanyahu is expected to only mull the possibility late next week.

Medical staff wearing protective clothes work at the coronavirus ward of Shamir Medical Center (Assaf Harofeh), in Be’er Ya’akov, southeast of Tel Aviv, August 20, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a meeting with Arab community leaders on Saturday, Gamzu warned there could be hundreds of deaths among Israeli Arabs within weeks if infection rates continued to rise.

“Every day there are around 750 new infections in Arab communities, and that will increase to 800. If you take half a percent, or 1%, within three or four weeks — that is the statistic — hospitalized in serious condition, what does that mean? It starts at four or five a day, then reaches dozens and could even get to hundreds of deaths per day,” Gamzu said at the meeting in the northern Druze town of Daliyat el-Karmel.

Worldwide, COVID-19 has been blamed for over 875,000 deaths, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. There have been over 26 million confirmed cases.

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