Hours before planned nighttime curfews in some 40 virus hotspots were set to begin, the Health Ministry said Monday evening that the new restrictions would only be implemented from Tuesday night, amid disagreements with mayors of the various municipalities.
The ministry said the regulations would be in place from 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
The ministry also said the final list of the affected “red” localities, which has so far not been agreed upon, would be announced Monday night. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu, were set to give a press conference to explain the new regulations.
On Sunday night, the government pulled back from its plan to impose lockdowns on some cities with especially high infection rates, instead announcing nighttime curfews on some towns during which non-essential businesses will have to close. Schools in those places will be shut indefinitely.
The decision to backtrack from the plans for local lockdowns came after heavy pressure on Netanyahu from the ultra-Orthodox community, due to the presence of several ultra-Orthodox towns on the roster of hot zones that were to have been shuttered.
Four Haredi mayors published an unprecedented open letter Sunday accusing the prime minister of “trampling” their communities and “turning us into disease vectors and enemies of the people.”
Officials insist a nationwide lockdown is still a possibility, especially over the upcoming High Holidays. A key cabinet discussion on the matter is expected on Thursday.
Many of the municipalities expected to be on Gamzu’s “red” list are Arab municipalities. With a few exceptions, many Arab Israeli mayors welcomed new restrictions to fight the spread of the coronavirus in their cities and towns.
But the delays are taking a toll. Only a few days after the school year began, some Arab towns shut down schools in anticipation of the coming curfew, but for the second day in a row Monday, the cabinet failed to impose new measures.
“We decided to close our schools in anticipation of the lockdown, and we’re still waiting for a cabinet decision. This bumbling about is leading citizens to lose their trust in the government, and it’s only going to lead more people to ignore health and safety guidelines when they do emerge,” said Wadi Ara local council head Mudar Younes, who is also the head of the National Union of Arab Municipalities.
Meanwhile, the percentage of positive coronavirus tests continued to climb Monday, with the Health Ministry reporting that of the 18,414 test processed the previous day, 12.3 percent confirmed subjects as being infected.
The percentage of positive tests has risen steadily over the past week, up from some six percent during the last week of August. At the time when a national lockdown imposed earlier this year was rolled back, positive virus test results were below 1%.
A total of 2,157 new virus cases were identified Sunday, and another 561 from midnight to Monday morning, bringing the total number of people diagnosed in the country since the start of the pandemic to 131,970, with 27,099 active patients.
Three new deaths took the national toll to 1,022 Monday morning, while 103,849 have recovered.
Of those sick, 476 were in serious condition, 137 of them on ventilators. There were 162 patients with moderate symptoms and the rest had light or no symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Amid an ongoing second wave of infections, Israel’s death toll passed the 1,000 mark over the weekend. Just over a month ago, on August 6, the death toll stood at 565.
The transition government imposed harsh lockdown measures during the initial wave of the virus, managing to bring daily case numbers down to a couple of dozen in May. The country swiftly reopened, and since then has seen the pandemic spread at an unprecedented pace, currently making it one of the countries with the highest daily infections per capita in the world.
Officials have blamed the swift reopening of schools and other services, a weak contact tracing system and dwindling public will to maintain guidelines for the spike over the last several months.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.