Israelis once again have a new set of directives, which were rolled out by the coronavirus cabinet on Sunday and will go into effect on August 11, unless the Knesset intervenes.
The new rules are meant to help stop the ever-increasing spread of the novel virus, which is trending to hit an all-time high for serious patients and deaths this month.
Among the directives are limits on gatherings in public spaces and a requirement to keep a distance of at least two meters from each other in public settings. Moreover, the cabinet determined that, like during the first wave, only two unrelated people may travel together in a private car and that Health Ministry doctors may close down a business for the period necessary if a person who works there has been diagnosed with coronavirus.
Specifically, only 10 people may gather inside and 20 outside, including prayer services. Also, bars, pubs, discos and event halls are forbidden from operating.
On a positive move, cultural performances can restart immediately in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines – in outdoor spaces and with people divided into capsules of 20 people throughout larger complexes. Each performance complex will be individually approved by the Health Ministry.
However, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu told KAN News on Sunday night that he is considering pushing off the September 1 start date for school for children in grades four and up. According to the interview, Gamzu consulted with his various professional forums until midnight Saturday night and will continue to consult in the coming days as well.
At the same time, KAN reported that the possibility of ordering younger children to wear masks is also being considered.
The main objective is to keep the virus from spreading, as Gamzu said last week, since the country is at a pivotal moment. If the rate of infection does not decrease in the next two weeks, Israel may face a total closure.
Over the weekend, nearly 9% of those who were screened for coronavirus tested positive.
As of Sunday evening, there were 24,554 people with active cases of coronavirus – 763 new cases on Saturday and 254 between midnight and press time on Sunday. On Shabbat, only 8,587 people were screened.
The number of serious patients was 393, including 118 who were intubated. Some 600 Israelis have died since the start of the pandemic.
The Health Ministry also said on Sunday that it had committed some NIS 4 billion for the next year and a half to ensure the country is able to screen an average of 60,000 people per day for the novel coronavirus.
The money will be invested in several new contracts, including an expanded contract with the MyHeritage lab, which will enable it to increase from 10,000 daily tests to 20,000. MyHeritage and the ministry are expected to sign their new contract on Sunday.
Moreover, a Health Ministry tender is out to sign contracts with two private labs. And, there are plans to increase capacity at the health funds to be able to complete up to 30,000 tests per day.
When Health Minister Yuli Edelstein took office, only about 3,000 people were being screened for the virus daily. His goal was to increase testing first to around 30,000 and then to 60,000 by winter.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited MyHeritage on Sunday. His ministry was instrumental in securing the deal.
“This is not a commercial agreement, but a partnership in the national effort,” Gantz said. “We in the defense establishment are fully involved in the fight against coronavirus. In our procurement efforts, in our work efforts on the ground, and also through the IDF.
“This week we will start the activities of the Coronavirus Headquarters in the Home Front Command and we are of course deployed everywhere in the country, with an emphasis on red and orange cities and assisting in the Magen Avot v’Imahot senior facilities program,” Gantz concluded.
In addition to the IDF testing headquarters, two other programs launched Sunday: a program focused on haredi (ultra-Orthodox) red zones and a similar one for Arab communities.
Gamzu met on Friday with representatives from Jerusalem, Ashdod, Elad, Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Beit Shemesh and Beitar Illit, as well as top representatives of the Home Front Command, to discuss the establishment of the headquarters. The goal, he said, was to “prevent a closure by working together.”
The common goal, he stressed, is to lower infection. As such, although his “traffic light” program was approved by the government and he plans to start it in full on September 1, he said some immediate actions should be taken.
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As part of the new program, a 24/7 headquarters will operate with representatives of the Israel Police, health funds and Home Front Command. In each city, the headquarters will be run by a director that reports to the mayor.
The headquarters is charged with monitoring testing, conducting epidemiological investigations and deciding with the police if there is a need for closures.
The authorities will also work to prevent gatherings and contact between sick people and their families, plus help to increase mask wearing. Coronavirus patients will be encouraged to isolate in a state-run coronavirus hotel; families who need support during a family member’s isolation will receive it through the headquarters.
The one responsible for ensuring the success of the program is Maj.-Gen. Roni Numa, who was one of those originally tapped for Gamzu’s job. He currently runs the Central Command of the IDF.
To manage the Arab red zones, Gamzu on Sunday appointed Arab economic development specialist Aiman Saif, who worked to manage the crisis among his constituents during the first wave through the Interior Ministry. He also served in a number of senior government positions, most recently as director of the Minority Economic Development Authority in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Social Equality Ministry.
Gamzu held a meeting with Arab leaders on Sunday similar to the one held Friday with haredi leaders, including representatives from the Arab communities of Taybeh, Kafr Kassem, Kalansuwa, Yafa an-Naseriyye, Ein Mahil, Arara, east Jerusalem, Yarka, Kafr Manda and Zemer.
A 24/7 headquarters will operate in these cities too, with similar activities and goals to the ones in the haredi towns.