Top minister urges immediate 10-day national lockdown to stymie virus’s 2nd wave

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz decries decision to rapidly reopen Israel after first wave of pandemic subsided

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)þf
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)þf

Israel must impose a 10-day nationwide closure in order to get to grips with the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic that is spreading rapidly throughout the country, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday.

Speaking with the Ynet news site, Steinitz called for a partial closure in which people would be allowed to go to work or go out for necessities but would otherwise be largely required to stay at home.

The minister said it would be better to take aggressive action for a limited time to curb infections than drag the process out.

“We must first reduce infections from 1,500 to around a few dozen a day. This time we will learn a lesson and we will be able to open up not only the economy, but also the air link with the world,” he said.

He specifically suggested renewing air travel for people who are “vital to the Israeli economy,” saying that for Israel, a “disconnect of more than two or three months from Europe and most of the world will eventually hurt the basic mechanisms of industry and the economy.”

Healthcare workers take test samples of Israelis to check if they have been infected with the coronavirus in Modi’in, on July 07, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/FLASH90)

Steinitz also criticized the speed at which the economy was opened up in May after the first wave of the virus had largely subsided.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that his government had reopened parts of the economy too quickly.

“Looking back, as part of the trial and error, we can say that the last step was too early,” he said at a press conference, referencing the reopening of bars and event halls.

His remarks came after Natan Eshel, a top aide to the premier, said in a statement that “the blame for the situation lies with a high percentage of the public that isn’t adhering to the instructions, isn’t wearing masks, is partying in clubs and on roofs, at the beach and in other public places.”

Last Monday, the government passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed coronavirus outbreak, which in recent days has seen over 1,000 new cases a day, including limiting attendance at restaurants and synagogues, reducing the number of passengers on public transportation, raising fines for not wearing face masks, and shutting down event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.

Israel is “a step away from a full lockdown,” Netanyahu reportedly told cabinet members during the special meeting.

On Friday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warned that the government could reimpose a nationwide lockdown if the number of daily virus infections climbs to 2,000.

A medical team at the coronavirus unit, in the Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, Israel, May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Several local lockdowns, a number of them in predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, have been imposed by the government as part of its second wave response.

According to a Channel 13 poll published on Sunday evening, 61 percent of Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and 75% are unhappy with how his government has handled the economic fallout of the pandemic.

President Reuven Rivlin last week criticized the government for its failure to develop what he called a “clear coronavirus doctrine,” days after a senior health official resigned while warning Israel was heading down a “dangerous” path in its handling of the outbreak.

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