Netanyahu, ministers convene to weigh new restrictions amid virus outbreak

As cases of infection mount, and after government holds back on easing some measures, officials will discuss resumption of trains, limiting public gatherings

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on May 25, 2020. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on May 25, 2020. (Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a meeting with top ministers Thursday to discuss the continued uptick in coronavirus infections and the possibility of reimposing some measures to stem the renewed outbreak.

Hebrew-language media said the meeting would be held at 3 p.m.

The prospective restrictions were not detailed, but the meeting was expected to focus on the possible renewal of train service throughout the country, which has been repeatedly delayed, as well as a potential limit on gatherings.

Israel’s coronavirus death toll hit 300 on Thursday, as infections continued to spike with more than 100 cases confirmed overnight, the Health Ministry said.

The ministry’s website updated the country’s total cases to 18,461, an increase of 106 since Wednesday night and a surge of about 1,700 in two weeks, after fewer than 1,200 cases were identified throughout the entire month of May.

The number of active cases, which dipped below 2,000 last month, stood at 2,947.

They included 31 in serious condition, of them 24 on ventilators. Another 44 were in moderate condition, and the rest were showing mild or no symptoms.

Medical workers at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv treat a patient in the coronavirus unit on May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Earlier in the week, 179 cases were identified in a 24-hour period, the highest number of daily cases diagnosed since late April. Officials have bemoaned a slackening of public observance of virus rules, though lawmakers and policy leaders have also flouted health guidelines.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu ordered stepped-up enforcement of social distancing rules, including giving city officials the power to join police in enforcing mask-wearing and rules against large gatherings. A day earlier, the government decided to freeze plans for a further easing of restrictions that would have allowed trains, cinemas and arts venues to open.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, local authority inspectors and qualified Population and Immigration Authority inspectors will now enforce the wearing of masks, and stop gatherings held against regulations.

In addition, they will have powers to check adherence to the so-called Purple Badge standard for businesses and commercial centers, and work to enforce quarantines for people diagnosed with the coronavirus and those they have been in contact with.

Israelis wearing face masks embrace on a street in Tel Aviv, June 9, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid the jump in cases, inspectors handed out hundreds of fines on Wednesday against Israelis who were not wearing masks. The number of mask fines distributed on Wednesday, 381, was four times higher than on any day last week, according to Channel 12. The fine for not wearing a mask in public is NIS 200 ($60).

Police have also fined more businesses who failed to heed the emergency rules. Fines for businesses range from NIS 2,000 to NIS 5,000 ($580-$1,450).

Health officials have attributed much of the recent rise in new cases to schools, which reopened in May after a two-month closure.

The Education Ministry said Thursday 442 students and staff members have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the renewed outbreak began. It said 144 schools and kindergartens are closed. Nearly 24,000 people are in quarantine following the discovery of the virus cases.

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