1. The virus strikes back: After widespread complacency for weeks over the coronavirus — despite tallying over 2,000 new daily cases on most days — Israel is jolted back into action after crossing the 3,000 mark, with a lockdown imposed from Monday on cities and towns with the highest rates of infection. Maybe.
- The restrictions under discussion for the 30 municipalities include banning entry and exit, keeping residents within 500 meters of their homes, stopping public transportation, and closing non-essential businesses and all schools save for day care facilities and special education programs.
- Naturally, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, the rules are ever-shifting and not fully clear.
- Though the cabinet seemed to have approved the closure of 30 locales, coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu said Friday that the strictest restrictions would probably only be imposed on eight cities, without providing further details.
- There is no official word yet on which cities will be locked down, the 30 cities and towns currently designated as “red” are: Nazareth, Bnei Brak, Tiberias, Abu Snan, Umm al-Fahm, Elad, Aabalin, Buqata, Beit Jann, Jaljulya, Jatt, Daliyat al-Karmel, Zemer, Taibe, Tira, Kasra-Samia, Ka’abiyye-Tabbash-Hajajre, Kafr Bara, Kafr Kanna, Kafr Qassem, Lakiya, Sheikh Danun, Maale Iron, Ein Mahil, Assafiya, Arara, Fureidis, Qalansawe, Rechasim, and Kfar Aza.
- The closures, if applied to all 30 cities and towns, will affect 600,000 Israelis, reports Israel Hayom. Most of the towns and cities listed for closure are Arab-majority, and a number of others are ultra-Orthodox.
2. Failing grade for Netanyahu: Israel now has the highest rate of daily new coronavirus infections per capita in the world, according to figures aired by Israeli television on Thursday.
- “Grade: F” — reads the headline of Yedioth Ahronoth, referring to the government’s handling of the crisis.
- “These difficult numbers are a direct result of a dearth of leadership and of failed management,” charges Haaretz in its editorial. “The main culprit for the failure is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who yesterday was suddenly urgently summoned [to deal with the crisis]. But Netanyahu was also the man who failed in the policy of lifting the lockdown, who delayed for too long in appointing an official to oversee the pandemic, and even after appointing Ronni Gamzu, didn’t give him basic work conditions to change the reality.”
- Joint List leader Ayman Odeh acknowledges high rates of infection among his constituents, but says the government’s failed policy is to blame. “As of today, Arab citizens represent 28% of the coronavirus patients in Israel. That’s too high and we’re doing everything to reduce the numbers — but that’s not the reason we’re heading toward a national lockdown. The main reason is the crowded cabinet of failed ministers in a failed government that has lost its control over the crisis. Not weddings or protests in Jerusalem.”
- Writes columnist Amos Harel in Haaretz: “There is a vicious cycle here, which is self-perpetuating. Many citizens aren’t careful about social distancing and are therefore contributing to the infections; as that grows, the public trust erodes — and with it, the adherence to the rules. This is prominently seen in some communities (Arab, Haredi, secular youth) and therefore increases the hostility and suspicion in Israeli society. As much as Israel suffers from a policy problem, it suffers from an enforcement problem.”
- Harel also muses over the “immense, almost unfathomable” gap between the hype over the Israeli delegation’s trip to the UAE this week and the virus chaos roiling the country.
3. Turning a blind eye: The policy failures, however, don’t start and end with the lockdown, with the papers spotlighting some of the outstanding issues.
- Harel, for example, says of the opening of the school year this week: “The gamble that was taken, because there was no choice, in reopening schools includes a complicated and sometimes contradictory system of rules that Israel will have a hard time implementing over time. Most classes in schools have been divided into two capsules, but the students are mingling on the transportation to school, in electives for older ages, in after school programs for younger children. This is a collective pretense, which will likely end with an increase in infection.”
- Ynet reports of major psychological distress in the so-called “corona hotels,” run by the state for 2,000 virus patients who cannot isolate at home. In the past two months, there have been 15 suicide attempts and numerous incidents of domestic violence at the facilities, it reports, on top of the widespread anguish of many over the protracted isolation. “Absurdly, there is only one social worker appointed over the well-being of the patients in 20 hotels, and this is in addition to their full-time employment elsewhere,” it says, even as the government’s new coronavirus law explicitly says the patients must receive counsel.
- Yedioth, meanwhile, says the government is still working on a compromise to allow Hasidic pilgrims to visit the Ukrainian town of Uman over Rosh Hashanah. The current proposal, it says, would allow hundreds of people who have recovered from the virus to travel to the pilgrimage site, though it remains unclear whether Kyiv — which closed its borders to foreigners — will accept them.
4. A grim milestone: Israel is also approaching the 1,000th death from the pandemic.
- In anticipation, Israel Hayom interviews doctors in coronavirus wards, who describe the dissonance between the deathbed goodbyes they witness weekly and the public nonchalance toward the virus.
- “There is a total gap between what my colleagues and I see in the health care system and the public understanding. We, the medical staff, feel we’re in a war of attrition, fighting daily for the lives of the sick, but when I try to explain the dangers of the disease to people outside, I sometimes encounter zero understanding,” says Dr. Uri Galante of the Soroka Medical Center.
- Dr. Boris Svirsky of the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya writes: “In the coronavirus ward, I learned the meaning of life. I learned the meaning of compassion, simplicity, relationships and how all of these are not to be taken for granted. After watching an elderly woman with the coronavirus say goodbye to her husband, I turned on the television late at night and was astounded to see reports about large gatherings and interviews with spiritual leaders with their warped interpretations of the reality.”
5. A challenge to Lapid: Columnists are also eyeing with interest the Yesh Atid leadership challenge posed by longtime member Ofer Shelah, who this week demanded the party hold primaries and said he would run against Yair Lapid. It marked the first internal challenge for Lapid, who led the party since its founding in 2012.
- Writes Ravit Hecht in Haaretz: “The declaration by Ofer Shelah on his leadership aspirations pumped oxygen into the bruised body of the left-wing camp.” She predicts the attempt, along with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s announcement he would run, as “the start of something new” for Israel’s ailing left and the “end of the era of vagueness” that characterized Lapid’s leadership.
- Yedioth calls it a “political bombshell,” noting Shelah and Lapid’s close friendship.
- A senior source in the party says: “Shelah doesn’t really want primaries for the leadership of the party. He’s looking for a reason to leave in order to form a left-wing party. After election, he’ll reunite again with Lapid, but he’ll at least be [openly] left-wing.”