System of a lockdown: What the press is saying on September 11
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System of a lockdown: What the press is saying on September 11

As hospitals overcrowd, a looming second shutdown raises questions about when it starts, whether it works and how we managed to screw things up this badly

A woman walks by a poster critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, in Tel Aviv on September 10, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
A woman walks by a poster critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, in Tel Aviv on September 10, 2020. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

1. Lock ‘em down: Israel is headed back down to lockdown town, pending approval by the full cabinet, and the news dominates the headlines Friday morning.

  • “The lockdown is back,” reads the top headline of Yedioth Ahronoth.
  • “The government that failed in dealing with the pandemic is expected to significantly ratchet up restrictions on citizens,” the populist tabloid rags.
  • “And you shall be locked down in your festivals,” reads a headline from Israel Hayom, playing off the Jewish liturgical adage “And you shall be joyous in your festivals.” (It works better in Hebrew.)
  • Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the one who suggested a “full lockdown” for two weeks, after which the restrictions will ease. It notes that the plan went against the recommendation of coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, who had suggested having a full closure on holiday days only.
  • Most news outlets report that two-week figure, though that information has not been officially announced. Kan actually includes pictures of part of the draft regulations as written up in Thursday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting, which indicates that at least the second stage will last two weeks and begin on October 1.
  • Two weeks before would indicate a September 17 start date, but many outlets report, without a source, that the lockdown will begin on September 18, Rosh Hashanah eve.
  • That includes Channel 12 news, though it at least notes that the actual start date has not yet been determined.
  • While earlier reports had suggested it could start on Thursday morning, Walla reports that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri suggested putting the lockdown off until Friday afternoon, “which will allow two more days of shopping ahead of the holidays, which will lessen the damage to the economy.”
  • Though the rules are not yet confirmed, several sites run explainers of what the next month is supposed to look like, including ToI, which you can read here.

2. But don’t throw away the key yet: The question of whether this thing will actually work is also a burning one, especially with it coming on the heels of a previous scheme that is already being left for dead just a few days in.

  • In Haaretz, Amos Harel calls the night curfews in place already “a bad joke,” and noting the high morbidity rates warns that “given the absence of a policy and without a formal declaration, Israel is sliding into a controversial, risk-fraught experiment in achieving herd immunity. In this case, it’s herd immunity without a shepherd.”
  • Science Minister Izhar Shay tells Kan that enforcement will be stepped up for the lockdown.
  • Speaking to the same station, Prof. Ron Balicer, a media fixture when it comes to explaining Israel’s policies, says that the Gamzu “traffic light” program that led to the curfews is fine for maintaining low infection rates, but is not built for “systematic breaking of basic general guidelines — masks, social distancing and no gatherings.”
  • “The fact that an irresponsible minority from across all walks of life continue to serially ignore the guidelines has caused the plan to fail, and no traffic light or any other measure will work to stop the rise in infections in Israel,” he says.
  • Israel Hayom reports on a Military Intelligence study that it says found that “lockdowns have proven themselves in bringing down infection numbers.” Nonetheless, the headline on the piece claims that lockdowns in Peru and South Africa failed, though it does note lower down that a second lockdown in South Africa did manage to quarter infection numbers.

3. ICU struggling: With the number of sick rising wildly, hospitals are beginning to crank their alarm bells up to 11.

  • “If this trend continues, we will collapse,” the head nurse at Rambam Hospital’s ICU tells Army Radio.
  • Dr. Masad Barhoum, the head of Western Galilee hospital in Nahariya, which is dealing with much of the Arab community’s outbreak, tells the station that he might start transferring patients to other hospitals closer to Tel Aviv. “The situation is getting worse, the weddings in the community are continuing and the closure they decided on is too short.”
  • According to Kan, Shaare Zedek in Jerusalem has already begun asking other hospitals to take their patients. “We’re full up. If a sick person is released during the day, we immediately hospitalize new people,” a hospital source is quoted saying.
  • Dr. Michael Halbertal, the head of Rambam Hospital, writes in Israel Hayom that things are not looking good: “Medical teams are exhausted and are approaching their limit – which is making matters worse. Even if we receive more doctors, nurses and technicians it won’t help because if the current trajectory doesn’t change we will lose control and won’t be able to properly treat those who don’t have the coronavirus. The facts speak for themselves, and we are standing on the edge of the abyss.”
  • Channel 12 news reports that Gamzu started off the coronavirus cabinet meeting by warning ministers that “I am raising a red flag over us nearing incapacity at the hospitals.”

4. Pandemic politics: Others are raising a red flag over the failures that got Israel to this point.

  • Speaking to Channel 13 news, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy says what everyone pretty much already knew. “Some of our recommendations were not accepted because of irrelevant considerations,” he says, seemingly referring to politicking.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that looking at the state of the nation and its leadership, “COVID-stricken Israel makes a lot more sense than Start-Up Nation.”
  • “Israel in 2020 is a fragile collection of deeply divided and hostile communities, constantly suspicious of each other and lacking in any confidence that a prime minister fighting for his personal survival is making decisions based on the national interest,” he writes.
  • Yedioth’s Sarit Rosenblum, looking at the failures and over-politicking that brought Israel “to the edge of the abyss,” says it’s already time to start thinking about the third wave of infections.
  • “It’s expected and known about ahead of time, lying in wait just on the other side of the second lockdown. In this bitter time of failure, we need to look ahead. We still have a chance to correct the wrongs of the past, to do right, so we don’t find ourselves back here in the winter,” she writes.
  • In Calcalist, Dor Sa’ar-Mann writes that Israelis shouldn’t be afraid of the lockdown, but “the fact that there is no leadership here, no responsibility.”
  • “The only thing that’s actually being shut down is hopes that the country will be managed like it needs to be, for the good of the citizens. Instead, we are left with a shutdown, that seems more like a curfew from a bad American teen sitcom, which if it’s not kept to is punished by being grounded. That’s the level of leadership, and without a happy ending.”

5. Flight of really fancy: A report from Channel 13 Thursday that Netanyahu was planning on taking a private plane with his family to the US for the UAE deal signing ceremony, while having his entourage on another plane, kicks up enough of a storm that by Friday morning his office announces that the premier will make do with flying to the US with the rest of the rabble.

  • Even Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahana, who is a staunch defender of Netanyahu, tweeted: “A private flight by the prime minister to Washington, while the rest of the country is going into lockdown, and the rest of his entourage is on another plane, to say nothing of the skies that have been closed for half a year — is a public relations terror attack, like Netanyahu’s request for tax refunds at the height of the crisis.”
  • Walla’s Tal Shalev also compares the private plane saga to the tax refunds. “The posh flight may turn out to be a mistake with especially disastrous timing, like that which will set critics alight and even hurt him among supporters,” she writes.
  • Netanyahu’s office had claimed that taking two planes would be cheaper, but Channel 12 news reports that the private jet flight was expected to cost at least NIS 600,000 ($145,000).
  • According to Ynet, the private plane the Netanyahus were going to take is owned by Udi Angel, one of the owners of the Reshet TV franchisee.
  • Speaking before Netanyahu backtracked, Shay, the science minister, told Army Radio that the start of the lockdown was put off so that Netanyahu could make it back from Washington: “The significance of the peace deal is important enough. We have one prime minister — if the people who care for him decide his own plane is the way to get there, we wish him happy travels.”
  • In fact, the agreement is not a peace deal. Haaretz’s Amir Tibon points out that this whole ballyhoo could have been avoided if Netanyahu just did what Mohammed Bin Zayed is doing, stay home and send the foreign minister instead. “This is a diplomatic event, not a family vacation,” he tweets, “and meanwhile Israel’s economy is collapsing, all due respect to his election campaign.”
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