Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with medical experts, ministers and Health Ministry officials on Tuesday to discuss further limiting gatherings from 20 down to 10 people, as well as additional steps, according to multiple Hebrew media reports.
But despite Israel facing a spike in COVID-19 cases, the hours-long meeting ended without any decision made on further steps.
Reports indicated that representatives from the National Security Council who participated in the meeting recommended that restaurants be shuttered, save for delivery services, and that beaches, synagogues and yeshivas be closed as well.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz objected to the recommendations, saying that it would be best to wait another week to see the effects of the latest round of restrictions before moving forward with additional measures.
Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay recommended that instead of enforcing a lockdown during the entire week, the government should consider only enacting a closure in the evenings and on weekends to limit the economic ramifications as much as possible.
According to Channel 12 news, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein repeated his warning that if the current rend of rising infections continues, there will be no choice but to impose a full lockdown.
Channel 13 reported that a decision on whether to seek a new lockdown could be made over the weekend.
Among those taking part in the gathering were Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who served as director-general of the Health Ministry until mid-June. Bar Siman-Tov played a leading role in Israel’s initial response to the pandemic and oversaw many of the strict restrictions put in place to contain the virus. He was also seen to be in lockstep with Netanyahu on how the government should respond to the pandemic.
News of Bar Siman-Tov’s participation in the meeting led to speculation among some analysts of Netanyahu lacking confidence in the new Health Ministry director Chezy Levy.
A lawmaker from the opposition Yesh Atid party claimed earlier Tuesday that the government “doesn’t have the legitimacy” to impose a renewed lockdown and that if it does order one, Israelis don’t need to obey.
“This government violated the most basic contract with the public, the one that obliges it to protect us in a time of crisis,” MK Idan Roll wrote on Twitter. He said government decisions to combat the virus “aren’t based on data” and are driven by political considerations.
The tweet sparked fury among right-wing lawmakers, with Likud coalition whip Miki Zohar accusing Roll of calling for “a rebellion.”
Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett called on Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid to renounce Roll’s comments. “This is a call for anarchy and this how a state and its institutions are dismantled,” Bennett wrote on Twitter. “I have very harsh criticism of the government’s failures… but this is an elected government.”
President Reuven Rivlin later said in a statement that “calls for civil disobedience violate the foundations on which… our state was established.” He pleaded with lawmakers to “be careful with what you say.”
Separately Tuesday, Gantz directed the IDF Home Front Command to prepare to operate hotels for coronavirus patients and those unable to quarantine at home through 2021, saying it appeared unlikely that the COVID-19 pandemic will be over by then.
“The working premise needs to be activity until the end of 2021,” Gantz said in a video call with commanders in charge of the hotels. “The entire work year, next year, will also revolve around the crisis. Unfortunately it’s hard for me to see this ending before then.”
Maj. Gen. Uri Gordon, the head of Home Front Command, said the greatest challenge facing his unit is getting people to come to the hotels, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.
“At the end of the day, you’re uprooting a person from his home for a relatively long period, about a month, and this leads to many concerns and objections from the sick and the quarantined,” he said. “However, very large efforts are being made and the machine is already well-oiled.”
He said that over 400 people check into the hotels each day.
Gantz’s fellow minister in the Defense Ministry, Michael Biton, was forced to enter quarantine on Tuesday after exposure to a confirmed coronavirus carrier. He will remain in isolation until next Thursday.
Earlier Tuesday, the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center reported that 1,688 coronavirus infections were diagnosed a day earlier, the highest number seen in any 24-hour period.
The figures showed a total of 179 serious cases, and 364 total deaths. The statistics appeared to contradict a Health Ministry update from 10:30 p.m. Monday night, which counted 365 dead and 183 serious cases.
A Tuesday morning update by the Health Ministry reported that there had been 1,681 cases on Monday, and raised the death toll to 368.
The discrepancies could not be immediately explained.
Figures released by the Health Ministry Tuesday morning showed that 42,235 cases had been confirmed in the country since the start of the pandemic, including 21,393 active cases.
The new figures from Monday marked the highest confirmed case tally yet recorded in any 24-hour period, as the spread of the virus continued to ratchet up.