Ahead of an emergency meeting of ministry chiefs Sunday to discuss the steady rise in coronavirus infection rates, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly seeking to renew a controversial program allowing the Shin Bet security agency to use sensitive personal data to track coronavirus carriers and those who were exposed to them.
Source in the Prime Minister’s Office told Haaretz on Saturday that “If illness rates continue to rise, the premier will ask to reevaluate the use of digital means.”
The report came after Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, called earlier in the day for the swift passage of a law authorizing the tracking program, which ended earlier this month after the government declined to advance legislation anchoring it in law.
Meanwhile the Ynet news site reported that another measure that may be discussed at Sunday’s meeting of top officials is raising fines for Israelis caught not wearing masks in public.
Currently, authorities can hit people with a NIS 200 ($58) fine for not donning a mask in public areas.
The Health Ministry on Saturday night said 294 virus cases had been diagnosed since Friday afternoon, continuing the trend of some 300 new cases a day over the past few days.
The number of active cases stood at 4,668. Forty patients were in serious condition, of which 27 were on ventilators. Meanwhile, 49 people were in moderate condition while the rest had only mild symptoms.
Among the latest cases were 16 residents of an elderly living facility in Jerusalem.
Also Saturday, a military body coordinating information on the pandemic, the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, warned that Israel has entered a second wave of infections and said if it did not take immediate steps to bring numbers down, it could face a thousand new cases a day and hundreds of new deaths in a month’s time.
That report was later criticized by one leading epidemiologist as unprofessional, though another backed up its claims.
Despite the rise in cases, the cabinet on Friday gave the go-ahead to hold cultural events of up to 250 people with certain limitations. The green light applied to cinemas and theaters, and took immediate effect. In certain situations, with prior approval, events of up to 500 people will also be authorized, the cabinet decided.
The government has repeatedly warned the public to continue to adhere to social distancing and hygiene orders amid concerns that a slacking of attitudes is allowing the spread of the virus to pick up pace anew.
Leaders have indicated they are averse to a new national lockdown, but that they will seek local closures on any hotspots that emerge.