Government ministers were set to meet Wednesday to discuss rolling back weekend restrictions on retailers and a plan for giving municipalities more autonomy to set their own virus regulations, as the number of active virus cases approached 25,000 and infections showed no sign of slowing.
The so-called coronavirus cabinet was scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. with Ronni Gamzu, who has been appointed to lead the national response to the virus but has reportedly been criticized by ministers for failing to bring concrete proposals to the table.
Among the topics of discussion at the meeting will be Gamzu’s scheme to introduce a color-coded rating for cities based on how they are faring in the battle against the coronavirus.
Under the plan, places that have avoided outbreaks would be granted the freedom to create their own rules, allowing event halls, for instance, to open, according to reports. Cities doing less well would be funneled extra funding to help deal with the problem while those faring the worst would be managed at the national level.
Israel has struggled in recent months to contain the outbreak, confirming close to 2,000 new infections a day.
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry announced that 15 people died on Monday, the highest single-day toll yet. Three more deaths Wednesday morning brought the death toll to 564.
According to Health Ministry figures Wednesday morning, there were a total of 76,763 virus cases, an increase of almost 1,700 over 24 hours earlier. Of these, 24,866 cases were active.
Five major hospitals are now at 100 percent capacity or more in their coronavirus wards, according to the ministry. There are 750 patients hospitalized, including 341 people in serious condition, 99 of whom are breathing via a ventilator.
Ministers on Wednesday were also expected to vote to end weekend-only restrictions on economic activity, after health officials determined that the half-measure had failed to bring infections down.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that the government would cancel the restrictions, which closed malls and shops.
“There’s no such thing as a half-pregnancy,” he said during a visit to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. “There’s no need for this, there’s no proof this helps anyone. In my opinion, aside from bothering the public it doesn’t achieve anything.”
The measure had not affected other places of business, leading retailers to complain that they were unfairly being singled out. Though the closure was still in effect, many retailers opened their doors over the weekend in defiance of the restrictions.
Ministers had been expected to cancel the restriction last week, but failed to come to an agreement, reportedly due to pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties, which want limitations on synagogues to also be eased.
They met again on Monday to discuss possible localized lockdowns and curfews during nights and weekends, but held off on making any new decisions to tackle the pandemic.
Gamzu, a former Health Ministry chief, has sought to do away with what he describes as illogical restrictions, which have angered the business community. Currently, few curbs on businesses remain in place on weekdays, with only event halls and large cultural venues shut. Lawmakers in the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee, who have overturned several cabinet decisions to impose new regulations, have vowed to reopen those as well.
Ministers who took part in Monday’s meeting issued sharp criticism of Gamzu, claiming to Army Radio that he didn’t offer any concrete proposals to reduce the number of new infections per day, instead focusing on easing restrictions and exploring local lockdown measures.
“He said empty slogans and general principles without any practical suggestion. He appears to be a little incompetent,” one unnamed minister was quoted as saying.
Gamzu was reportedly ordered to bring more concrete information to the ministers on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Health Ministry Director Chezy Levy said ministers could still discuss a partial or complete lockdown.
“Lockdown is a tool that can reduce morbidity; on the other hand the price we’ll pay for a complete lockdown is clear to all of us,” he told Army Radio.