Clash within gov’t as MKs to weigh nixing cabinet decision shutting pools, gyms
Panel's chair says 'willing to pay price for right decision'

Clash within gov’t as MKs to weigh nixing cabinet decision shutting pools, gyms

Likud official warns that party colleague who chairs committee will be removed if panel overturns restrictions; MKs have been told only 35 people contracted COVID-19 at gyms

A swimming pool in Jerusalem with a sign saying 'No entrance,' July 7, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A swimming pool in Jerusalem with a sign saying 'No entrance,' July 7, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lawmakers were set on Monday to deliberate whether to overturn a cabinet decision and lift some of the restrictions imposed recently as coronavirus cases surged, as MKs argued that the Health Ministry had not provided sufficient evidence to justify shuttering swimming pools and gyms.

Discussions on the matter began on Sunday, but a vote on the matter was delayed until the next day. Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein were reportedly pressuring the head of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee not to overrule the decision to shutter swimming pools and gyms.

An unnamed senior Likud official quoted by Hebrew media outlets Monday warned that MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud) would be removed as head of the coronavirus committee if she allowed it to overturn the cabinet’s decision.

The committee is reviewing the regulations under controversial legislation passed last week that allows ministers to impose coronavirus restrictions immediately and only later seek Knesset approval.

Critics said the law removed a key check on the government’s power; previous rules stated that decisions had to be approved by the Knesset’s coronavirus committee or another relevant panel, which delayed implementation by a day or more.

Health Ministry representatives have argued that pools and fitness centers are ripe for mass infections, but some MKs said the figures the ministry presented did not justify the sweeping closures.

According to data presented to the committee on Sunday, 35 infections were confirmed in gyms between June 4 and July 10, 170 at weddings, 21 in restaurants and six in bars. No data was provided on pools.

A woman exercises at the Mati gym club of Malha in Jerusalem on May 11, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The health officials said the origin of a significant portion of infections was not known.

In addition, there has been disquiet over the fact that hotel swimming pools have been allowed to operate while public facilities have been shuttered.

Knesset Member Yifat Shasha-Biton attends the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee on July 15, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A report on the Walla new site said Shasha-Biton spoke with Netanyahu on Sunday to advance the lifting of restrictions, after she called for finding a “delicate balance” between maintaining public health and the duty to maintain people’s livelihoods.

However, Netanyahu reportedly objected to her intention to overturn the decision.

Shasha-Biton responded to the report, saying that she “is here to serve the public and do what’s right for the public both health and financially.

“We have to maintain balance and we will make the right decisions professionally. I am willing to pay the price for doing the right thing — we make decisions based on data,” she said.

The Health Ministry on Sunday evening confirmed the coronavirus death toll had risen to 362, announcing eight deaths in the past 24 hours as positive results from testing reached new highs.

According to the figures released by the ministry, 1,206 new virus cases have been confirmed in the past day, bringing Israel’s total to 38,670. Of those diagnosed with the virus, 151 are in serious condition, with 47 of them on ventilators. Another 108 are in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild symptoms or asymptomatic.

Medical staff examine a mock coronavirus patient during an exercise simulating the treatment of coronavirus patients, at the coronavirus critical care unit, at the Ziv Medical Center in Safed on July 9, 2020. (David Cohen/ Flash90)

The new figures come as experts warn of the need for further lockdowns after the government reimposed many restrictions on gatherings and economic activity, and on Friday a number of closures came into effect in neighborhoods in five towns and cities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev announced Sunday that buses would return to operate on a full schedule, just a week after new regulations were introduced for public transportation, which including rides stopping at 10 p.m.

Amid the rising number of cases, a team of experts from the Hebrew University on Sunday morning presented the government with a prediction that a hundred more Israelis will die of the coronavirus by the end of July.

They therefore recommended the reimposition of strict restrictions starting from next week, including a nationwide lockdown, if the rate of new infections does not slow down by then.

Police officers speak with ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at a checkpoint leading to Jerusalem’s Romema and Kiryat Belz neighborhoods, which are under lockdown due to high coronavirus infection rates, on July 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

To prevent the possible need for further shutdowns, the Health Ministry has reportedly increased its use of phone tracking technology to trace those who have come into contact with confirmed virus carriers.

According to Channel 12 news, the ministry asked the Shin Bet security agency to trace the phones of 6,321 people between July 1 and July 8, sending over 70,000 into quarantine. However, the report added that one-quarter of those who appealed the quarantine, saying the Shin Bet tracking was faulty, were released.

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