A meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet that convened to discuss possible new regulations ended without coming to any conclusions on Sunday, with the Health Ministry and government ministers reportedly at loggerheads over the scope of regulations that should be implemented as virus cases rise, if at all.
According to leaks carried by Hebrew media, the Health Ministry put forward a number of recommended moves that should be made to try to control the pandemic, but many ministers did not want to take steps that could harm the economy.
The Health Ministry recommendations included limiting the number of participants at weddings to 50 (rather than 250); requiring children’s day camps to be run using the “capsule” system of limited, constant groups of no more than 15; limiting prayers to outside areas and in groups of no more than 19 people; and banning general gatherings of more than 20 people.
Channel 13 reported that at one point during the meeting a presentation was given by Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy and an unnamed representative of the Gertner Research Institute at Tel Hashomer Hospital.
“If the current trend continues without drastic measures, we will lose control of the pandemic and there will be hundreds of dead,” Levy said, according to ministers who attended the meeting and spoke with the outlet.
Science Minister Izhar Shay reportedly interrupted Levy, saying: “We are being dragged into irrational decisions. The data processing is lacking.”
According to Channel 12, a number of ministers were angered by the suggestion that steps should be taken to contain the virus that would also harm the economy.
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri reportedly criticized what he said were the Health Ministry’s “excessive demands,” adding: “No further steps are needed. You have to learn to live with the coronavirus.”
Education Minister Yoav Gallant was said to have taken particular aim at the intention of reducing the number of children allowed to attend day camps at any one time.
“I serve the country by allowing one million children to be responsibly supervised while parents go to work,” he reportedly told the ministers, whereupon he was asked to present a plan on Monday that would allow the camps to operate in a safe way without a return to small groups.
Finance Minister Israel Katz reportedly added that he opposed any decision that could hurt the economy and employment rates, and that instead existing regulations needed to be better enforced.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein reportedly said: “I ask that ministers not only say ‘no’ but also offer alternatives.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that contact tracing of coronavirus patients be reduced to 48 hours, and virus testing — from when a request is filed until results are completed — to 12 hours, in an attempt to break chains of infection.
In addition, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the cabinet discussed the possibility of reducing public sector work to 30 percent from home as well as increasing enforcement.
Discussions were set to resume Monday, including on the possibility of university examinations being held remotely. Hebrew media reports said that the increase in the number of cases combined with outbreaks at educational institutions had led to inquiries on the matter from hundreds of students. In addition, it was thought the move could reduce the chances of mass infection.
Netanyahu said earlier Sunday that Israel was facing a “rising wave” of infections.
“I do not know if we are in a second wave, but we are in a rising wave,” the prime minister said at the opening of the cabinet meeting. “We have passed ten million people [infected] in the world and half a million dead. Countries that have removed the restrictions are bringing them back. We have already seen in other places that it is not a matter of either health or economics, because serious damage to health is also a very serious wound to the economy.”
The Health Ministry’s latest data on Sunday morning showed 76 new recorded infections from Saturday evening, bringing the national tally to 23,497.
The death toll, meanwhile, climbed by one to 318. There were no details immediately available on the fatality.
The number of active cases stood at 6,160, including 45 in serious condition, an increase of four from Saturday evening, among them 24 on ventilators.
In a Sunday letter to Levy, Israel Society for Infectious Diseases head Miri Weinberger warned the Health Ministry that not only was the number of cases increasing, but so was the average age of those infected, an indicator that patients could be more severely affected.
“Over the past two weeks, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of daily infections of the coronavirus. In recent days there has also been a rise in the ages of those diagnosed and hospitalized,” Weinberger wrote.
“We are about to lose control of the epidemic in Israel. We are close to the point of no return where there will be mass infection and burdens of severely ill patients. The window for effective action is closing — if we do not begin at the start of this week, we will miss the boat and may even lose control,” Weinberger wrote.