‘Reckless, irrational, damaging’: Latest lockdown plans met with public outrage

Ministers, opposition figures, businesses and medical officials all lambaste tough measures they say will cause enormous damage to the economy, with no clear plan forward

People wearing face masks shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People wearing face masks shop for groceries at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

As the Cabinet met Thursday evening to discuss potential weekend lockdowns as well as other restrictions to curb a spike in coronavirus infections, some ministers, opposition members and officials spoke out against the proposals that were being presented for government approval.

The nationwide weekend lockdown under consideration would run from Friday mornings to Sunday mornings, according to multiple media reports. Beaches and malls would be shut and people would be required to stay at home except for essential needs.

Weekend lockdowns were agreed upon in principle by a core group of ministers earlier Thursday, but amid legal complications and ministerial argument, such a move was not seen likely taking effect immediately, with ministers instead discussing ordering businesses to close early on Friday, July 17, with no immediate new restrictions on movement.

Other proposed general measures reportedly backed by the core group of ministers earlier in the day included shutting down the education system from Sunday, which would close kindergartens, summer camps and summer schools; limiting outdoor gatherings to 20 people and indoor ones to 10; allowing restaurants to offer only takeout and delivery; and closing gyms and pools.

Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir of the Blue and White party warned that the restrictions would cause “enormous damage to the economy.”

Zamir said the education shut down was “de facto, a lockdown for parents who are supposed to go out to work. Complete closure of restaurants is unnecessary given the low infection figures [there].

“This is irresponsible behavior and without logic,” Zamir said and warned the “reckless” measures would only further lower public faith in the government’s decision-making.

Blue and White MK Asaf Zamir (right) at a party faction meeting in Tel Aviv, on January 8, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The public health committee of the Israel Medical Association, the country’s largest doctors union, questioned the wisdom of the weekend restrictions, saying in a statement that “a decision to [impose a] lockdown on weekends or deny access to open spaces, if made, is a decision devoid of epidemiological logic.”

“In order to maintain public trust and public health, the decision-making must be conducted transparently, in a planned way, on the basis of epidemiological logic and data and not on the basis of political considerations,” the union said.

“There are alternative strategies in public health that will enable a much better response to the epidemic, with all its consequences.”

Immigration and Absorption Minister Penina Tamanu-Shata, also of Blue and White, said “We need to be careful that the lockdown is not more dangerous than the virus itself for the country, and God forbid lead to a collapse of the socio-economic system.”

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid-Telem) tweeted that the government was endangering Israel’s economic reputation.

“Israel today raises capital under good terms because it is considered an economically responsible country,” he wrote. “If this detached government continues to run as it does, that will end at an alarming rate.”

Opposition MK Naftali Bennet, leader of the Yamina party, said the lockdown plan was “a detached decision, irrational and damaging.”

He tweeted: “The government is in a panic and firing in all directions without any logic… No one understands the logic, no one is presenting a plan.”

“The public feels like passengers on a bus heading for a cliff, and the two drivers are fighting each other and not functioning,” he said, in apparent reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

MK Yair Lapid speaks at the Maariv newspaper conference in Herzliya, on February 26, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Criticism of the proposed restrictions also came from within Netanyahu’s Likud party, with the premier’s chief rival in Likud, MK Gideon Sa’ar, saying he was “having a hard time finding a rational idea in the decisions that will be brought to the government tonight. They will certainly exacerbate the damage to the economy and it is doubtful they will achieve the desired purpose.”

However, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, of the Likud party, told Radio 103FM that in his opinion a full lockdown should have been applied weeks ago.

“More than a month ago we should have applied a lockdown for 10 days, give or take, because I think it is very important to dramatically and immediately bring down the morbidity rate,” he said.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 27, 2019. (Flash90)

He said one of the biggest impacts on the economy was the limitation of international air travel, and that reopening Israel’s skies was a priority. Many countries have cancelled their routes to and from Israel, and with the infection rate climbing, are not likely to change that policy.

Israel, he continued, has an “export-orientated high tech economy. The interaction between Israel and the world has been seriously damaged because of the aerial lockdown.”

If the daily infection rate drops back down to less than 100, “flights between Israel and Europe, Japan, and many [other] places will restart,” he assured.

Steintiz said he favored a broad lockdown that still enable people to go to work, as a way to quickly bring down numbers rather than dragging out the struggle for months.

Blue and White MK Penina Tamanu-Shata during a meeting in the Knesset, on January 13, 2020. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

There was also anger from restaurant owners, who only weeks ago were given permission to reopen after being shuttered since March.

Shai Berman, CEO of the Israeli Restaurants and Bars Association, said the decision to close venues and only allow delivery service would “mean closure of the restaurant industry in Israel,” Channel 12 news reported.

He said the government has yet to find an economic solution for businesses “that are once again helpless, without a solution and without anything on the horizon.”

Earlier, Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of senior cabinet members to discuss the lockdown measures.

The meeting was called after the Health Ministry on Thursday morning announced the highest number of new infections so far recorded within a 24-hour period, with over 1,900 people diagnosed with the virus since Wednesday morning.

Among those who participated in the meeting and gave his backing for the measures was Blue and White leader Gantz, even though he had previously opposed applying more restrictions on the public.

Under current rules, the cabinet has the power to immediately impose new restrictions, after which the Knesset has a week to decide whether to approve or rescind them.

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