Coronavirus cabinet to convene Sunday on red zones and schools

Written by on August 29, 2020

On Friday, more than 2,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus were diagnosed.

Prof. Ronni Gamzu meets with haredi leaders on Friday, Aug. 7 (photo credit: Courtesy)

Prof. Ronni Gamzu meets with haredi leaders on Friday, Aug. 7

(photo credit: Courtesy)

The coronavirus cabinet is expected to convene on Sunday to vote on whether or not to implement Prof. Ronni Gamzu’s “traffic light” program and discuss the final outline for schools, which are set to start on Tuesday.

The final vote on the traffic light plan has been delayed several times.

The meeting will take place against the backdrop of a week of tension over banning hassidic Jews from traveling from Israel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah.

Traditionally, as many as 30,000 Israelis travel to the central Ukrainian city for the holiday. But this year, with infection rates high in both countries, the coronavirus commissioner cautioned against the pilgrimage, even writing a letter to Ukraine’s president asking him to ban these Jews from coming.

President Volodymyr Zelensky later did decide to close the country’s borders through September 28. Hassidic Jews who tried to enter the country just ahead of when the ban was supposed to start were left stranded at airports on Friday.

Irina Rybnitskaya of the Rabbi Nachman Foundation said that hundreds had initially been stranded on Friday, although she later said some were being let in.

“It seems they have begun to let them in. But not all of them,” Rybnitskaya told Reuters. There was no kosher food available where they were kept, she added.

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Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for the border service, told Interfax Ukraine that dozens of hassidic Jews had been stopped at airports this week as border guards could not confirm the purpose of their trip.

“We do not make decisions on any discriminatory criteria. We make decisions that help protect the health of our citizens, regardless of their nationality, citizenship or religion,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday.

Mikhail Tkach, executive director of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, said the pilgrims had been warned in advance there could be problems on arrival.

“I don’t know what they were counting on; it’s difficult to understand their logic,” Tkach said.

THE QUESTION over travel to Uman led to an escalation between several haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and other ministers and Gamzu. Last week, the commissioner even threatened to resign. However, he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that, “I am a person who tries everything but quitting… I am determined. I have thick enough skin.”

He said that if he quits, it means that “they made it really, really so, so unbearable.” After all, he added, “No one is standing in line to replace me. I’m doing the job.”

Still, officials in the Health Ministry told Kan News that the cabinet meeting will be a “watershed” moment for the commissioner. If the cabinet does not approve his traffic signal plan, he may step down.

At the same time, although Gamzu and haredi leaders have reportedly made progress on how synagogues will operate over the holidays, this question continues to be a point of contention. On Friday, Housing and Construction Minister Ya’acov Litzman threatened to leave the coalition if the government put the country under lockdown for the High Holy Days.

Sources close to the situation, however, told Israeli media that the minister was only making such statements to satisfy his constituency and had no intention of leaving the prime minister, with whom he has excellent relations.

Last week, Gamzu, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and ministers Litzman, Arye Deri and Izhar Shay met with ultra-Orthodox leaders and made what was described as “significant progress” toward a solution. Decisions have to be made about the number of people who can pray in each synagogue and whether services will be held inside or outside.

It is unlikely that a decision about a full closure will be made until close to Rosh Hashanah, which starts on September 18. The prime minister has said he would base such a decision on the morbidity rate.

Last week, Gamzu said in an interview that a lockdown was “still on the table.”

Other items that are meant to be discussed on Sunday are further opening the skies for Israelis, such as allowing them to travel to and return from Cyprus, Georgia, Hungary and Austria without entering isolation.

For the first time in a month, Israel passed 2,000 new daily cases.

The Health Ministry reported Friday evening that 2,066 people were diagnosed with the novel virus the day before. A total of 414 people were in serious condition, including 114 who were intubated. Six people died Friday, bringing the death toll to 894.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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