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Top health official: Election fever driving government’s pandemic decisions

Despite successful vaccination campaign, Chezy Levy says fourth lockdown possible if virus cases continue to rise

Chezy Levy, director-general of the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus on September 17, 2020. (Flash90)
Chezy Levy, director-general of the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus on September 17, 2020. (Flash90)

A senior Health Ministry official on Tuesday suggested the government’s latest decisions to lift coronavirus-related restrictions were influenced by the upcoming election later this month.

“We all assess that all these discussions are influenced and tainted by the panic over elections and are affected by it,” Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy told Radio 103FM in an interview.

Israel heads to elections on March 23, its fourth in two years.

Levy’s comments came after the government late Monday decided to press ahead with its plan to ease more restrictions next week, despite widespread violations of the rules over the weekend’s Purim holiday and an increase in the virus transmission rate. The Health Ministry had reportedly sought to delay these moves.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “had been very cautious, he didn’t want to open [the economy],” said Levy. “For weeks, he said he supports the views of the experts and is opposed to [Blue and White party head Benny] Gantz’s position in favor of opening. Now he joined him.”

Israelis wearing masks of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a protest in Tel Aviv on December 2, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Previous cabinet meetings were reportedly marked by shouting matches between Netanyahu and Gantz, who pushed for lifting the restrictions faster.

Levy opined that ministers were driven by political “agendas.”

In his radio interview, Levy also declared that a fourth nationwide lockdown was possible, despite the country’s world-leading vaccination campaign.

“A fourth lockdown… or various restrictions are not off the table,” he said, as the government moved to ease the rules of the third lockdown.

Despite a slight rise in coronavirus infections, ministers on Monday backed sticking to a plan to gradually reopen the economy, which will see restaurants and hotels open their doors to the vaccinated next week.

People walk on Jaffa Street, in downtown Jerusalem on March 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Starting next Sunday, those who are vaccinated or have recovered from the virus will be allowed to sit inside cafes and restaurants, while those not immunized must sit outdoors. Hotels and event venues will be opened strictly to those immunized or recovered, the Prime Minister’s Office said, adding that the general limit on gatherings will be expanded to 20 indoors and 50 outdoors. Students in grades 7-10 will be able to go back to school in low-infection areas.

And ministers on Tuesday will discuss a plan to reopen Ben Gurion Airport after a five-week shutdown.

The moves came as another 4,624 virus cases were diagnosed Monday, with 5.2 percent of tests returning positive. As of Tuesday morning, 729 people were in serious condition. The basic reproduction number, which represents the number of new COVID-19 cases from each infection, dropped from 1 on Monday to 0.97 on Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, as of Tuesday, 4.7 million Israelis had received the first dose of the vaccine, while 3.4 million got both shots.

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