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Virus czar: Businesses that violate limits on gatherings will be shuttered

Ronni Gamzu stresses he’s working to avoid another lockdown but warns one could be imposed, says decreased testing levels raise concerns of ‘hidden morbidity’

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaks during a briefing on August 11, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)
Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu speaks during a briefing on August 11, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Coronavirus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu warned Tuesday that Israeli businesses will be shuttered if they don’t enforce restrictions on gatherings meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“A business that exceeds the limit on gatherings is a business that will be closed,” he said during a press briefing.

Gamzu said continued violations of the caps on gatherings could lead to a renewed lockdown. However, he stressed that he was trying to avoid such a measure. “A lockdown would mean another half a million unemployed,” he said.

Gamzu appeared more willing to entertain the possibility of shuttering specific locales where infection rates have been high, such as the ultra-Orthodox towns of Bnei Brak, Elad, Beitar Illit and Modi’in Illit.

Police put up roadblocks at the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit outside of Jerusalem, which was declared a restricted zone due to a high rate of coronavirus infections, July 9, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“These cities are not really being managed enough. A lot more work needs to be done there,” he said.

“If the morbidity rate continues to rise, in the end there will be a closure in Modi’in Illit,” Gamzu added, referencing the Haredi settlement that went through weeks of lockdown during the first wave of the pandemic.

Gamzu went on to express concern over declining testing levels and implored the public to get tested, warning of “hidden morbidity.”

The Health Ministry said 22,833 tests were carried out on Monday and 21,861 were carried out Tuesday — a significant drop compared to numbers from last month, which at times neared the 30,000 mark.

The senior health official suggested that some of the decrease could be attributed to Israelis’ hesitance to get tested.

“There is also a situation in which people are afraid to be tested for all sorts of reasons,” he said, adding that the trend “worries” him.

Gamzu then sought to dispel concerns that Israeli hospitals cannot handle the caseload, that has also seen a rise in seriously and moderately ill patients.

Prof. Gamzu, unveils his plan to fight the COVID-19 pandemic at a press conference on July 28, 2020 (screenshot)

“Folks, they are not collapsing,” he said. “There is distress and there is difficulty, but they are not collapsing.”

He acknowledged that Jerusalem hospitals have been overwhelmed, but said that they could be relieved by having patients sent to other medical centers around the country that are treating fewer patients.

Gamzu added that he recognized the “huge responsibility” on his shoulders to pull Israel out of the crisis, but lamented that the country “is not there yet.”

On Tuesday morning, the Health Ministry updated the country’s death toll to 619.

The Health Ministry said that 14 deaths had been recorded Monday, with another two as of 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. The Monday tally was the highest since August 3, when a record 15 people succumbed to the virus.

The total number of cases rose to 85,354, an increase of over 1,800 infections since 24 hours earlier.

The tally of recovered patients topped 60,000 for the first time, with 24,714 cases remaining active.

According to Health Ministry figures, 381 people are hospitalized in serious condition, including 110 patients on ventilators. Of the remaining patients, 182 have moderate symptoms and the rest mild symptoms or none.

People walk with face masks on Jaffa street in Jerusalem, on August 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Since the beginning of the outbreak earlier this year, 85,354 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of these, 60,019 have recovered.

The numbers came as fresh restrictions went into effect that continue to cap gatherings at 20 people outdoors and 10 indoors, limit cars to three passengers at a time, and limit businesses to one customer on the premises for every seven square meters (75 square feet) of space.

Businesses will be prohibited from serving customers who are not wearing masks, must take the temperature of those who ask to enter the premises, and must post signs detailing appropriate behavior.

Shared eating spaces in open-air markets and in shopping malls will be closed. Deliveries must be left outside recipients’ doors.

The new restrictions offer bad news for many business owners, extending the closures of bars, nightclubs, water parks, event halls and other recreational sites.

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