Opposition MKs blast government for inadequate virus response as cases soar
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Opposition MKs blast government for inadequate virus response as cases soar

Liberman calls for moves against pandemic to be controlled by IDF Home Front Command; Bennett, taking harder line than coalition, urges Israelis to stop visiting grandparents

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-L) and his coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C-R), attend a graduation ceremony for new pilots in Hatzerim air force base near Beersheba, on June 25, 2020. (Ariel Schalit / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C-L) and his coalition partner Defense Minister Benny Gantz (C-R), attend a graduation ceremony for new pilots in Hatzerim air force base near Beersheba, on June 25, 2020. (Ariel Schalit / POOL / AFP)

Opposition lawmakers on Thursday berated the government’s response to the rising number of coronavirus cases as ministers were set to convene to weigh additional restrictions.

The criticism came as Israel on Wednesday hit its highest-yet number of daily infections, with 1,013. Though it has limited gatherings, closed off highly infected areas, and reinstated the controversial Shin Bet security service surveillance of carriers, the government has refrained from reimposing a nationwide lockdown to stem the outbreak due to the economic damage such a step would cause.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying that it “stems solely from political and electoral considerations,” and calling for control of the outbreak response to be transferred entirely to the IDF Home Front Command.

“In parallel with the leap in the number of coronavirus cases, we are seeing a leap in the number of bodies dealing with and discussing the issue… all announcements and briefings look more like an endless battle for credit than a real fight against the virus,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.

Israeli police officers guard at the entrance to a neighborhood in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, July 2, 2020, during a closure on some neighborhood in the city following the spread of the coronavirus. (Flash90)

“All dealing with the spread of the disease and [publishing] information about it must pass to the Home Front Command. It is the only body that needs to coordinate the national struggle against the virus,” he said, citing examples of ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israeli communities that saw infection rates drop after the Home Front took control of them.

Liberman claimed that “the prime minister’s insistence on retaining control and being the chief spokesman and briefer, with control in the hands of the National Security Council, stems solely from political and electoral considerations.”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman wears a protective face mask during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on June 7, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Yisrael Beytenu chief said that Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is responsible for the Home Front Command, must “take the reins, show leadership and insist that all powers in dealing with the coronavirus be transferred to the Home Front.”

Taking a harder line than the government limitations on gatherings, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett said that Israelis should refrain from visiting their grandparents in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to the elderly.

“I am instructing you here: Do not meet grandparents in a closed apartment,” Bennett, who served as defense minister for the start of the coronavirus outbreak, said during an interview with Galei Yisrael radio.

“But that’s contrary to the Health Ministry guidelines,” said the interviewer.

“I’m now just giving my own instruction to listeners. Do what you want with it,” Bennett responded.

Bennett, who since joining the opposition has increasingly become a critic of the government’s response to the outbreak, on Wednesday set up what he called a “civilian coronavirus cabinet” to “present ways of dealing with the economic and medical crisis, and assist with communicating information to the public, and recommendations for reducing the harm to the economy.”

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett, at a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Thursday recorded 905 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours and two more deaths since Wednesday evening, bringing the national toll from the pandemic to 324. The ministry said Thursday there have been 26,452 cases since the start of the pandemic, of which 8,647 were active; 17,481 people have recovered. That marked an increase of over 6,000 new COVID-19 cases since June 1.

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