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Ministers end meeting with no decision on further easing virus restrictions

Cabinet to reconvene Sunday after Blue and White opposes evening curfews; Netanyahu says Israel doing better than Europe, but leaks give impression it’s doing badly

People wearing face masks take cover from the rain on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on November 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People wearing face masks take cover from the rain on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem, on November 11, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ministers ended a meeting Thursday without decisions on further easing a national lockdown that began in September, including proposals to reopen schools for grades 5-6 and use evening curfews to prevent mass events.

The Blue and White party, led by Defense Minster Benny Gantz, has decided that it will oppose the evening curfews, making it unlikely the measure will pass a vote in the cabinet, Hebrew-language media reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers who lay down policy for dealing with the virus outbreak, said that no decision on lifting the lockdown or other issues would be taken, and that a further meeting of the cabinet will be held on Sunday, after Gantz returns from a visit to Cyprus.

“We want to act slowly, there may be a third lockdown, but if we do have to do that, we must do everything to keep it delayed as long as possible,” Netanyahu reportedly told ministers.

Another matter on which a decision has not been made is the shortening of the mandatory quarantine period, which currently stands at 14 days. The government has announced several times over the past few months that the period would change soon to 12 or 10 days, but no decision has been passed. Netanyahu on Thursday reportedly backed a push by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to shorten it even further, to seven days.

Benny Gantz, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu, right, at the Knesset on November 10, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset spokesperson)

Netanyahu reportedly told ministers during the meeting that he would set up and lead a new ministerial committee tasked with bringing any future coronavirus vaccines from abroad and overseeing their distribution in the country.

He also said that while Israel was currently doing better than other countries in terms of its battle with the coronavirus, it had a poor image due to gloomy leaks from cabinet meetings.

Ministers should stop commenting on what steps they will or won’t vote for ahead of time, as well as leaking disagreements from the meetings, the premier asserted.

“It’s pointless,” he said, according to the Ynet news site. “We’re a country that’s doing better than European nations, but because of these leaks there’s this image that comes out differently.”

A drop in the number of new daily cases, achieved during the second national lockdown, has recently leveled off amid the gradual reopening, leading Netanyahu and health officials to warn that if the numbers begin to climb there will be no further easing of restrictions.

Israel sharply brought down its daily coronavirus infection rates from some 8,000 in mid-September to several hundred by late October with the nationwide lockdown, its second since the start of the pandemic. It has remained stubbornly above 500 a day, though, on most days with 30,000 tests or more.

The lockdown paralyzed much of public life and the economy and shuttered the entire education system. The government began removing some restrictions a few weeks ago, opening preschools and kindergartens, then grades 1-4, as well as permitting some street-front businesses to begin operations. The rest of the education system has continued with remote learning.

Shoppers wearing face masks wait in line to purchase clothes during the reopening of street shops in the Mamilla Mall during a national coronavirus lockdown, on November 11, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus on Wednesday reached its highest daily value in over a week with 734 new cases, according to Health Ministry figures.

A Thursday update from the ministry showed that the death toll had climbed to 2,700.

There were 8,105 active cases, with 312 people seriously ill. The Health Ministry said 158 patients were in critical condition, with 137 on ventilators.

Out of 38,722 virus test results returned Wednesday, 1.9 percent were positive, slightly up from the 1.6% recorded out of 40,384 test results on Tuesday. The numbers were nonetheless an improvement over levels of over 2% seen earlier in the week.

Since the start of the outbreak earlier this year, 321,684 people in Israel have tested positive for the coronavirus.

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