Top health official warns ‘complete lockdown’ still a possibility

Top health official warns ‘complete lockdown’ still a possibility

Chezy Levy says decision-makers are weighing all options to halt spread of virus; ministers reportedly critical of new coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, say he appears ‘incompetent’

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The director-general of the Health Ministry warned Tuesday that the reimposition of strict lockdown measures was being weighed to reduce the current rate of new coronavirus cases.

“A partial or complete lockdown are still options,” Chezy Levy told Army Radio.

He said that decision-makers were looking at all the available options to halt the spread of the virus, including ordering localized lockdowns of cities with high infection rates.

“Lockdown is a tool that can reduce morbidity; on the other hand the price we’ll pay for a complete lockdown is clear to all of us,” he acknowledged.

Levy’s comments came a day after the so-called coronavirus cabinet convened to discuss possible localized lockdowns and curfews during nights and weekends, but held off on making any new decisions to tackle the pandemic.

A man wearing a face mask bikes past shops in Jerusalem’s Old City on August 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The meeting saw ministers discuss various ways to drive down infection rates, ranging from encouraging mask-wearing to a full national closure, “which we are trying to avoid,” according to a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

The growing warnings of a fresh lockdown came just days after ministers appeared poised to roll back mandatory closures of stores and malls over the weekend and after Ronni Gamzu, the new coronavirus czar, pledged to end “illogical” government restrictions.

Ministers who took part in Monday’s meeting issued sharp criticism of Gamzu, claiming to Army Radio that he didn’t offer any concrete proposals to reduce the number of new infections per day, instead focusing on easing restrictions and exploring local lockdown measures.

“He said empty slogans and general principles without any practical suggestion. He appears to be a little incompetent,” one unnamed minister was quoted as saying.

Ronni Gamzu speaks at a press conference on July 28, 2020 (YouTube screenshot)

While Israel currently has one of the world’s highest per capita infection rates, Netanyahu said Tuesday the growth rate in new cases appeared to have leveled off. He cautioned, however, that it could pick up again and that there could be a jump in deaths from COVID-19.

His comments echoed those of Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who said Sunday the number of cases was stabilizing.

Israel had largely succeeded in containing the spread of the virus during the initial outbreak, with the number of new daily cases dropping to the low dozens by May. However, following the rollback of most restrictions, there was a surge in infections, with recent weeks seeing around 2,000 new cases per day.

According to Health Ministry statistics released Tuesday morning, 1,801 new coronavirus cases were recorded the previous day, with the total number of infections since the pandemic began rising to 75,083.

A healthcare workers tests an Israeli for coronavirus in the West Bank settlement of Modiin Illit on July 29, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Of the 24,764 active cases, there were 349 people in serious condition, with 97 on ventilators. Another 139 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The Health Ministry reported eight more fatalities from COVID-19, bringing the national toll to 554.

The number of daily cases hovered around 2,000 last week, before dipping over the weekend to several hundred, which appeared linked to a decline in testing levels on Saturday and Sunday.

After fewer than 10,000 tests were conducted on those two days, the number jumped back to 21,565 on Monday.

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