Virus czar said planning High Holiday restrictions as death toll climbs to 692

Health Ministry announces 1,597 new cases in 24 hours, with Ronni Gamzu aiming to recommend far-reaching measures to stem virus spread during Jewish festivals next month

People walk with face masks at Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem's Old City, on August 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
People walk with face masks at Damascus Gate, in Jerusalem's Old City, on August 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu will reportedly recommend far-reaching restrictions to stem the spread of the virus at Thursday’s coronavirus cabinet meeting.

Ministers will attempt to delay the regulations until the onset of the Jewish High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot — from mid-September until early October, to avoid an additional blow to the economy, according to Channel 12.

The restrictions Gamzu reportedly plans to push during the holidays include limiting gatherings in houses of worship, closing hotels and other tourist attractions, limiting movement, and recommending that Israelis observe the holidays only with their nuclear families

“It’s not if, it’s when,” the network reported, summarizing Gamzu’s approach, which appeared to mark a departure from his attitude until now — strong opposition to sweeping measures to contain the virus, due to the damage they can cause to the economy.

In a statement responding to the report, Gamzu’s office said his position regarding lockdowns of any kind has not changed, and he is trying to avoid implementing them at all costs, as long as the health care system can continue to function.

Israir flight attendants, wearing full protective gear, attend the boarding of an Israir flight between Tel Aviv and Eilat on August 17, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“As is well known, the prime minister asked Prof. Gamzu to put forward a detailed plan for a [mini]-lockdown [for the holidays].

“As part of his work, Prof. Gamzu is holding consultations with economists, in order to estimate the various effects and determine the proper timing for such measures, in order to achieve the highest health benefits at the lowest economic cost,” the statement added.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry on Monday evening updated its COVID-19 case count to show another 1,597 infections confirmed in the last 24 hours.

Four deaths were confirmed since midnight, bringing the toll since the start of the pandemic to 692.

Of the 23,324 active cases, 399 were patients in serious condition, 111 of whom were on ventilators. Another 176 were in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms.

According to the ministry, 12,383 tests were conducted on Sunday, with 9.1 percent of them coming back positive. The ministry said 16,587 tests had been tested thus far on Monday, with a more promising 5.8% of them coming back positive.

The so-called coronavirus cabinet of top ministers will convene Thursday to discuss rules on gatherings, after a parliamentary panel refused to extend the government regulations by 28 days.

The Justice, Law and Constitution Committee voted to limit the cabinet’s recently proposed health regulations to a week, rather than the four weeks requested by the top ministerial body.

The panel’s chairman, Shas MK Yaakov Asher, said during the Sunday session that the government owes the public clarity on the rules and overall strategy.

United Torah Judaism parliament member Yaakov Asher at the opening event of their election campaign, ahead of the Israeli elections, in Jerusalem, on February 12, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The public can’t wait any longer for the plan of virus czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu, and therefore the rules are approved for a week only,” he said, taking a combative position similar to the one adopted by Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton.

The latter MK heads the Knesset’s coronavirus committee, which used to be charged with overseeing the cabinet’s decisions regarding pandemic-related restrictions, but saw her panel’s responsibilities transferred to Asher’s committee after it repeatedly found itself at odds with the Netanyahu government last month.

Restrictions on crowding in indoor spaces passed by the coronavirus cabinet on Friday went into effect on Sunday, but were not ratified by the Knesset until Monday.

Ministers had agreed to bar over 10 people in closed spaces such as businesses, restaurants and synagogues that are smaller than 80 square meters, and up to 20 people in places that larger than that size. To date, restaurants have been allowed to seat 20 customers indoors and 30 customers outdoors.

In open spaces, crowds of up to 30 people would be allowed, instead of the 20-person limit that is currently in place.

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