1. Let my people go: As the Passover curfew is lifted, but with partial lockdown rules still in force, the Hebrew press on Friday eyes the possible easing of restrictions after the week-long holiday, as infection rates seem to steady.
- “I assume that after Passover, there will be some relief [of the restrictions], gradually and with oversight, control and much monitoring,” Health Ministry Deputy Director Itamar Grotto is quoted saying in Israel Hayom. “It’s important that there be no expectation that everything will open at once. The education system will certainly not resume after Passover… Entertainment and leisure [businesses] won’t reopen.”
- According to Israel Hayom, the exit strategy is contingent on expanding the number of daily COVID-19 tests to 20,000-30,000, mask-wearing in public and the upholding of social distancing rules, and easing the rules first in areas where infection rates are low.
- In Yedioth Ahronoth, Prof. Rafi Beyar, a former director of the Rambam Medical Center, writes that Israel “must, today, deal with an exit strategy to begin immediately after the holiday. We must take advantage of chol hamoed [the interim days of the holiday] to formulate a plan, which will include a gradual return to work, a gradual resumption of schools, from kindergartens to the universities, resumption of essential medical treatments in the public hospitals…. The infection can be kept to a minimum under these terms, including wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and eating together in workplaces, and banning mass gatherings like soccer games. The Israeli public has shown responsibility and it can be trusted.”
2. Not so fast: Haaretz’s Amos Harel, in a front-page column, pours cold water over these predictions, noting that Israel is falling far behind on the number of coronavirus tests it aspired to be conducting at this time (first over 10,000, then 30,000 daily). Moreover, he writes, the test results in Israel take up to 48 hours to parse, lagging behind the world.
- “Under these circumstances, the broad debate in the media on the possibility of the gradual reopening of the economy after Passover appears to be an empty debate. Without fast tests, and without running serological tests to detect antibodies in the blood after the disease, it will be very hard to ease the economic crisis even a little bit.”
- ToI’s Nathan Jeffay outlines some of the proposed exit strategies here.
- He writes: “One team of scientists, from Bar-Ilan University, is convinced they can ‘kill’ the coronavirus in Israel within six weeks, and allow everybody to return to work and school in the meantime on a week-in, week-out basis. It briefed the National Security Council with its proposal on Tuesday. Another team, from the Weizmann Institute of Science, proposes a four days on, 10 days off model — with everyone, including schoolkids, out and about for those four days, and everyone locked down for the other 10. This plan has been presented to the Health Ministry.”
3. Rules don’t apply to me: Yedioth Ahronoth and Haaretz play up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s flouting of the Passover lockdown rules, as he is filmed alongside his son, Avner, who does not live in the premier’s residence. The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom does not mention the incident.
- Netanyahu’s son appeared with him in a Passover Seder video, despite the premier repeatedly urging the Israeli public in recent days not to visit family this holiday, and specifically beseeching young people not to hold the traditional meal with their elderly parents — unless they live in the same household — to prevent coronavirus infection.
- “Netanyahu demands, but Netanyahu does not comply? reads Yedioth’s headline.
- In his Haaretz column, Harel notes the Israel Defense Forces also appears to be treating itself as above the health rules. The military has struggled to enforce the rules in the army — and even sent hundreds of soldiers home for the holiday, setting a bad example, he writes.
- “In other words, after the government implores [Israelis] not to hold the seder with people who don’t permanently live in the same home, the IDF decides — for reasons that are unclear — that it has its own rules and sends hundreds of soldiers home. The soldiers’ parents were undoubtedly happy to see their children after a long period of forced separation. As for the health ramifications, we’ll see that in a week to two weeks.”
- According to Yedioth, 1,239 tickets were handed out by police against violators during the first days of the holiday.
4. Surgeries scaled back, courts remain shuttered: Meanwhile, the Health Ministry rolls out new directives on testing the elderly and medical procedures in hospitals.
- The ministry on Wednesday begins testing residents of old age homes and assisted living facilities where infections are found. The ministry had previously refrained from administering the tests to all those living in the facilities, despite protests from relatives.
- According to Yedioth, 28 of the fatalities in the pandemic were residents of such facilities.
- The Health Ministry also orders hospitals to postpone most surgeries over fears of a drug shortage, reports Haaretz.
- And the emergency footing in the courts was extended until May 10 by Justice Minister Amir Ohana of Likud, in a decision backed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. That’s two weeks before Netanyahu’s corruption trial is set to begin, notes Haaretz.
5. Is there a government yet?: Likud and Blue and White representatives are expected to meet Friday to resume talks on forming a government, after a previous round of negotiations failed to yield a coalition.
- “The agreement between the sides on Monday was on the verge of being signed, but at the last minute, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked to insert a clause under which the work of the committee [for the appointment of judges] will be coordinated with a Likud minister. Blue and White opposes this demand and insists the committee operate as it has in the past — namely, that the head of the committee, justice minister-to-be Avi Nissenkorn, be the one to determine when the panel convenes and can block it from convening so long as there is no consensus on the judges that should be appointed.”
- Despite the disagreements, “Netanyahu still aspires to present his fifth government with Blue and White after the holiday,” it reports.
6. Prisoner exchange in shadow of pandemic: Meanwhile, Haaretz quotes a Hamas official as saying the Gaza terror group is willing to begin negotiations with Israel on a prisoner exchange for two civilians held in the Strip and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 war.
- “Israel knows what the demands are and it need not be discussed in the media,” the official says.
- The development comes after a Lebanese report on Thursday said the Hamas terror group has relayed a proposal for a prisoner exchange with Israel, with Egypt as a mediator.
- According to Al-Akhbar, the proposal would have Israel release an unspecified number of women, children and elderly Palestinians being held in prison for information on IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose remains have been held by Hamas since they were killed in the 2014 Gaza war.
- There was no mention in the Lebanese report of Israeli citizens Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are believed to held by Hamas after having entered Gaza of their own accord in 2014-2015.
- Haaretz, in its editorial, urges Israel to pursue the offer. “If there is an opportunity now to use the coronavirus threat as a pretext for indirect dialogue with Hamas, in order to bring back the captives and the bodies of the missing, and to advance a long-term ceasefire, it must not be squandered.”