Locks on wry, hold the annexation: 5 things to know for July 2
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Locks on wry, hold the annexation: 5 things to know for July 2

Spiking coronavirus cases lead to slapdash lockdowns in a few neighborhoods, as the government appears to tackle the pandemic with the same chaotic zest it has used with annexation

Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray at a playground next to their homes in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, July 2, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews pray at a playground next to their homes in Bnei Brak, Israel, Thursday, July 2, 2020. (AP/Oded Balilty)

1. More cases, more questions: Annexation Day came and went with all the excitement of a Bob Ross special, but who can worry about a little sovereignty when the coronavirus is back on the rampage, now claiming over 1,000 cases in Israel in a single day for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

  • Several news sites report different numbers for the number of infections over Tuesday, thanks to the Health Ministry’s reporting system, which can be confusing. Yedioth Ahronoth trumpets 868 sick over Wednesday, while Israel Hayom puts the figure at 900 and Haaretz reports 1,013. The differences in the figures stem from when your count starts and ends.
  • In Haaretz, Ido Efrati notes that the Health Ministry has proven itself less than up to the task of collecting and sharing vital data, leaving policy makers and regular joes in the dark about how to deal with the spike.
  • “The rising number of infections in recent weeks has forced the ministry to present a more detailed epidemiological picture to check the progress of the epidemic, the healthcare system’s preparedness, and influence prevention measures. But a lot of vital information on all these subjects is not collected or shared with the public and other government ministries,” he writes. “Crucial questions remain unanswered. How many new cases are asymptomatic? What is the rate of infected people with unknown transmission sources? How many tracings are done daily and what is their success rate? How long did the process of breaking the infection chain take and how far is it from the fixed goal? How much does the Shin Bet security service surveillance and telephone tracing contribute to breaking the chain? What is the average length of hospitalization among COVID-19 patients? What are the main places of transmission? What are the dynamics of infection in schools? Who is high risk and what is the risk to family members?”
  • Even without all that vital data, health expert Eli Waxman has enough info to tell Israel Hayom that Israel is fast losing control (he’s raised the same alarm elsewhere as well recently), calling for it to at least shut down gatherings of more than a few dozen people.
  • “Most of the cases are still being identified through testing. The percentage of cases who don’t develop symptoms is low, and under 10% of tests are positive. That is an indication that we can still get control over the virus. But we need to take rapid steps on the national level that will reduce the risk of infection,” he’s quoted saying.

2. Throw away the key, but leave the door open: Instead, the government’s ho-hum reaction was to tighten its lockdown on part of Ashdod and to close off part of Lod as well, but leave everyone else pretty much going about their lives.

  • According to reports, ministers meeting Thursday are at least mulling limiting attendance at some events or bars to 50 people, and maybe having synagogues go back down to only hosting 20 people at a time.
  • “What’s happening at event halls and pubs is anarchy and they are the biggest source of infections,” Ynet quotes a senior minister saying (albeit without the data to back up his claim.)
  • “Unfortunately there is zero compliance at halls. The problem is that older people are going to weddings at many places and it’s spreading there.”
  • Meanwhile, the lockdown in Lod got off to a swimming start, according to Channel 12, with the government not even bothering to give residents or local officials a heads up. The result, chaos on Thursday morning.
  • Police weren’t given any time to set up checkpoints around the neighborhoods, and people for much of the morning were left to just go about their business, according to the channel, calling the city “still open.”
  • “It’s not okay that they didn’t give us a warning,” one resident tells the stations. “Nobody knows where the coronavirus is, we didn’t hear about it. You can’t just put a curfew on a city in two hours. You need to prepare, get food for the kids. … Everyone here is keeping the guidelines, I see people in cars with masks on. I don’t know what happened all of a sudden.”
  • Walla reports that Defense Minister Benny Gantz is set to work on advancing preparations for the possible opening of control rooms run by the Home Front command in cities, and bolstering coronavirus hotels.
  • ToI’s Nathan Jeffay reports that Haifa, which had mostly avoided the virus during the first wave, is now gearing up to be pummeled, with over 100 active cases currently in the city.
  • “I’m expecting that what is coming now will affect Haifa just as it affects the rest of the country,” says Dr. Oren Caspi, a principal investigator at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology medical faculty.

3. Why so unserious? Even as numbers go up, the number of serious cases has risen much more slowly, and the number of people on ventilators has not budged in days, puzzling some.

  • Many believe serious cases and deaths to be lagging indicators, meaning they won’t become apparent for weeks to come as some carriers worsen.
  • On Twitter, Channel 13 journalist Nadav Eyal rounds up some other claims as to why it seems to be less harmful, from an unproven theory that the virus has weakened to claims of better treatment to an idea that perhaps more people with little or no symptoms, who would have passed below the radar before, are now being tested and included in the count: “It’s interesting, but we pretty much know numbers from other places around the world, and it doesn’t appear to be the case,” he writes.
  • Epidemiologist Ronit Calderon Margalit offers another reason, telling Army Radio that the reason for the shift is that more kids are getting infected from schools, and they are less likely to be seriously ill. “The virus is still violent…. The feeling is that there is a large rise in infections and it’s not clear what the plan of action is,” she says.
  • While the ministry used to only sporadically release data about ages of the infected, it now does so daily, and a look at the figures shows that indeed the percentage of under-19s among positive cases has risen slightly, from around 11 percent in late May to around 14% now.
  • Former prime minister Ehud Barak, probably happy to talk about something other than Jeffrey Epstein, tells Kan that the hubbub over the spread of the virus is overblown, since the number of serious cases is so low. “The tests have quadrupled [they haven’t] and they changed the criteria for defining someone as sick. There’s no reason for comparisons with what was a month or three months ago.”

4. The land grab that time forgot: Annexation, or lack thereof, doesn’t garner much more than a blip in the Hebrew press, at least relative to the hullabaloo that preceded it.

  • The “date came and went Wednesday without any clarification from Mr. Netanyahu about what he intends to annex. The scenarios that continue to be floated in the Israeli news media only raise new questions,” reports the New York Times.
  • Yedioth, which made some waves by publishing an op-ed by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Thursday publishes a rebuttal by the somewhat less impressive Yesha settler council leader David Elhayani.
  • “Someone who rules another country won’t tell the Jewish people they can’t be present in the land of Judea,” he shoots back at Johnson, who happens to lead a country that up until 1948 did tell Jews where they can and cannot be in the land of Judea.
  • In the settlement of Ariel, residents could care less about annexation plans, AFP reports. “As a resident of Ariel, it has no impact,” one resident says.
  • On the homepage of many Hebrew news sites Thursday, the word “annexation” (or “sovereignty,” whatever) is nowhere to be found.
  • Walla reports that plans are so far behind that a Knesset oversight committee on Wednesday found out that the cabinet has yet to have a substantive discussion on the subject. “Also, a Justice Ministry representative said that they don’t have any representation among the National Security Council staff working on annexation and have not even been asked to submit an opinion on possible international legal ramifications.”

5. Delay the day: In Israel Hayom, Ariel Kahana turns on the Trump administration, blaming the delay on what he terms an alliance between the White House and Blue and White to put the brakes on the move.

  • “The only logical conclusion is that the Trump administration is looking for a way out of the peace plan it devised and for a way to walk back the promises the American president and his ambassador to Israel have made,” he writes.
  • In Haaretz, Anshel Pfeffer says that it wasn’t Johnson, or Gantz, or even the Trump administration who is to credit/blame for Netanyahu seemingly delaying the annexation moves, but rather presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
  • “Until very recently, Netanyahu was convinced not only of his own invincibility, but that of his orange-faced friend as well. But as Joe Biden has opened up a convincing lead in recent weeks, that belief has evaporated. Netanyahu has seen how all his allies in the administration, with the exception of Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, are now distracted by trying to shore up a losing campaign. Not only is he not about to get the kind of unequivocal backing he wanted for annexation, but he has to contend with the growing realization that to go ahead would put him at loggerheads with the prospective new Biden administration from Day One,” he writes.
  • Former general Yisraela Oron writes in Walla that Netanyahu should show leadership by knowing on his own that annexation should be put off. “A leader, who wisely calculates his steps, will take into account the possible damage versus the gain for Israeli citizens,” she writes. “At this point the damage wrought by annexation is infinitely greater than any benefit that will come at this time and in the future.”
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