New measures ‘not even close’ to a full lockdown, says top virus aide

Fresh restrictions, starting Friday, won’t feel anything like the spring closure, claims head of virus czar’s expert panel

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Israelis play tennis on an empty road during lockdown, following the government's measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel, April 9, 2020. (AP/ Oded Balilty)
Israelis play tennis on an empty road during lockdown, following the government's measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel, April 9, 2020. (AP/ Oded Balilty)

Israel’s new national closure will not constitute a “full lockdown,” and will be very different from the restrictions of March and April, a top aide to the coronavirus czar said on Monday.

“We need to find a new name for this, because it’s something very different,” said Ran Balicer, head of the expert panel that advises Ronni Gamzu, suggesting the term “social leisure lockdown.”

Ministers approved the new measure during a meeting on Sunday, and decided it will last for three weeks starting on Friday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that under the restrictions, Israelis will be limited from traveling more than 500 meters, but while a general outline of the plan has been released, all exceptions from the rule, and various other details of restrictions, have not yet been finalized.

Business leaders and opposition politicians have warned of dire consequences, but Balicer insisted that in the economic sphere, lots of businesses will stay open and much of the population will still go to work. “In terms of the economy, this is by no means — it’s not even close — to a lockdown,” Balicer, an epidemiologist and executive with the Clalit health maintenance organization, said in a briefing to journalists on Monday.

Police at a roadblock in Jerusalem enforcing a lockdown, due to the coronavirus outbreak, on April 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While the last lockdown confined people to their homes, that will not happen now, because the rules are focused on a clear aim of preventing large gatherings, he said. “It’s obvious — we are trying to prevent congregating and we’re trying to prevent social contact, and this is the compromise we’ve reached.”

Gamzu and his advisers had tried, in recent weeks, to avoid a national lockdown by isolating high-infection cities, based on a color code that cities received under his so-called traffic light system.

Professor Ran Balicer, head of innovation at Clalit, Israel’s biggest health services provider, in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2020 (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

The government scrapped parts of that plan, in what was widely seen as paving the way for a national lockdown. But Balicer refrained from criticizing the government, and said that the traffic light system had been introduced “too late” to render it useful for current challenges, given that cases are growing even in supposedly lightly affected areas.

“The entire country is moving from green to red, so the whole idea of geographical differentiation loses its point when the level [of virus spread] is so dramatic,” he said.

“So we really need to put this aside for a while to get the flames under control because when the entire forest is burning, there’s no point in targeted activity to put out a fire here or there. You need to have a blanket solution to put out the flames.”

Discussing what the upcoming closure will be like, Balicer said: “Following the weekend days and holidays, people will go to work in many different instances, almost as usual, and they will go home, but not to a bar or to a restaurant or to friends to have a large dinner together, and the kids will not travel together to the shopping mall to hang out together.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a new coronavirus lockdown, on September 13, 2020. (Yoav Dudkevitch / POOL / AFP)

“The reason we’re doing it in this way is that we need to strike a balance between the needs of the economy and the needs of public health, and we are trying to take the best from each world in this dire situation,” he said.

According to Balicer, policy is guided by the recognition of the impact of the “economic coronavirus” as well as that of the virus itself.

“The economic coronavirus is just as dangerous as the virus itself and it is also critical to tackle it,” he said. “We are very much conscious of that and we are making every effort possible to delay and to counteract some of the negative impacts of any step we are taking.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report .

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