Bennett: Over 60s who don't get booster in particular danger

Treasury chief comes out against ‘easy solution’ of lockdown to stop virus

Director-General Ram Belinkov warns if closure is ordered, there won’t be unemployment handouts as before; Health Ministry director says decision to come within 2-3 weeks

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

People, some wearing face masks, walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, July 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
People, some wearing face masks, walk on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, July 25, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Ministry Director-General Ram Belinkov said Thursday that the ministry opposes a new lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus infections, saying such a measure was just a way to avoid properly addressing the problem.

His remarks came as his counterpart at the Health Ministry said the lockdown option, though undesirable, was possible, and that officials will need to make a decision in the coming weeks if the new wave of infections gets worse.

Talk has swirled of a new potential lockdown during the coming Jewish holidays in September, though Health Ministry Nitzan Horowitz has said it will only be used as a “last resort.”

Belinkov said during a briefing for media: “We think that a lockdown is an easy solution, and we think it is a solution that is taken when you don’t want to deal [with the situation]. All means should be used to prevent a lockdown.”

Noting that previous lockdowns caused billions of shekels of damage to the economy, Belinkov said that it was “still too early” to discuss the idea and that such discourse was damaging to businesses by sowing panic.

Belinkov said that the Finance Ministry will “respond quickly in the event of a tightening of restrictions. At the moment there is no need to prepare specific steps.”

Ram Belinkov (Courtesy)

However, he added, if a lockdown is found necessary because of spiraling infections, the Finance Ministry was unlikely to repeat a program in effect last year that saw those who were put out of work by virus measures receive extended unemployment handouts.

“It has advantages and disadvantages,” he said. “Work ethic is impacted, people don’t want to return to work and the businesses are harmed.”

His remarks came as Health Ministry figures showed 3,430 new cases were diagnosed on Wednesday, the third consecutive day that the daily caseload topped 3,000. In mid-June, the daily figure was in the low dozens.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said Thursday that a decision on lockdown measures will need to be made within the coming weeks if morbidity rates continue to increase.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash speaks during a press briefing on July 25, 2021. (Screen capture: Facebook)

“If the situation gets worse, we will need to do this in the next two to three weeks,” he told Army Radio. “We don’t want to get to a lockdown, but the situation could make it necessary.”

Ash said there was still time to see if a campaign to give booster shots to those age 60 and over will work well enough to prevent a lockdown from being ordered. The drive to give third shots to older Israelis began last Friday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that in the coming weeks all those age 60 and up who have still not received the booster shot “are in particular danger” and should only meet their grandchildren in open spaces and with masks on, and should steer clear of any places where there are large numbers of people.

Health Ministry figures released Thursday showed that so far a quarter of a million Israelis have received a booster shot, and another 380,000 appointments have been booked.

Ministry sources told Channel 12 news that nearly 50 percent of those infected in recent days were from the Arab community, which makes up just 20% of the overall population.

Of the 25,747 active cases in the country, 250 are in serious condition, according to ministry data. Of those, the eldest is 99 and the youngest 31, according to the Ynet website.

Since the start of the pandemic, 888,063 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel and 6,505 people have died of the virus.

The government has already ordered some restrictions on public life to bring down virus spread, including permitting only those who are vaccinated or recovered from the virus to attend events of more than 100 people — others must present a recent negative virus test — as well as requiring face masks in indoor public areas.

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