Netanyahu on coronavirus: ‘We are at the height of an ongoing war’

Written by on September 24, 2020

Israel enters second national lockdown after nearly 60 people die of coroanvirus in a single day

Ichilov Medical team at the coronavirus unit, in the Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 28, 2020. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

Ichilov Medical team at the coronavirus unit, in the Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, Israel, July 28, 2020.

(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

Israel enters its second national lockdown oon Friday afternoon, after the number of infection cases surged and nearly 60 people died of coronavirus in a 24-hour period by Thursday evening.

“Due to the sharp rise in morbidity, we have decided today on necessary measures,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday evening during a briefing. “These closure measures are not easy, but saving lives comes first.”

He said that the country was “at the height of an ongoing war – the coronavirus war” and that the virus is “expected to take a heavy toll on us, in addition to human life. I am sorry to say that, but it is the truth.”

Israel recorded 6,883 new cases in Israel on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported Thursday – the second day in a row to reach such a high figure. There were an additional 3,586 between midnight and press time. Of those screened, some 12.2% tested positive.

The death toll stands at 1,376, which includes an increase of 59 patients between Wednesday and Thursday evening.

Some 685 people are in serious condition, including 175 on ventilators.

Netanyahu said that “there is a simple rule: When you open the economy, the infection rate goes up. Unfortunately, with the removal of the restrictions, there has been a gradual loosening of adherence to health regulations, which includes not wearing masks, not keeping distance and many dangerous gatherings.”

Referencing comments made earlier by opposition leader Yair Lapid, he claimed that “populist politicians said that the guidelines should be obeyed because they are the whim of one person,” but he stressed that they would be life-saving.

“An entire generation, hundreds of thousands who have been infected, will carry scars for life,” he bemoaned. “And I see people dancing and having a meal at a long table without masks. Wake up – we are in a different reality. Action must be taken now.”

And there is no stopping the closure now, after the government voted in favor of it on Thursday morning.

Later, in a stormy session of the Knesset plenum, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said the lockdown was needed “to prevent every Israeli from demonstrating in the Sea of Galilee.” Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar ripped up the lockdown proposal, which ended up passing its first reading in the plenum by a 36 to 32 vote.

The Knesset was expected to pass the proposal in its second and third readings by morning.

The cost of the lockdown is expected to be around NIS 35 billion, according to the Finance Ministry, at a time when some 850,000 Israelis are already out of work – 120,000 filed for unemployment in just the last week.

In terms of the impact on the private sector, this lockdown was expected to be more severe than the one in the spring, because then the private sector could operate at 30% capacity while now, the government is closing the private sector down completely – except for essential workers.

However, later on Thursday, the outline was changed to allow more people to go to work.

“I am proud that after a hard struggle, I managed today to change the outline for closing the private sector. And contrary to the intention that emerged yesterday, to allow many factories that were about to close – in the high-tech, defense industries, construction, finance and services – to continue operating during the closure,” Finance Minister Israel Katz said. “The private sector employs millions of people and is the beating heart of the Israeli economy. I will do everything to continue to strengthen it in these difficult days of test.”

At the cabinet meeting on Wednesday night, Netanyahu spoke to the public. He said, “We are at the moment of truth. This cabinet meeting is reminiscent of those that were held during the time of the transition government,” when emergency decisions were made.

But the decisions at this meeting went contrary to the professional recommendation of coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu.

Gamzu had wanted to keep businesses operating at 50% and there were many ministers who supported him, including Katz and Economy Minister Amir Peretz. But Netanyahu felt otherwise. He told Gamzu that “We make decisions based on the weight of our responsibility and not only on your recommendations.

During my entire career, there have been many times that I did not listen to the professionals and each time I was 100% correct. The recommendations we have taken from you until now caused a rise in infection from 2,000 cases to 7,000.”

Gamzu said, “I will not say the infection rate is not worrying.  It is very worrying. Maybe we could have closed less, but it is OK that the government made this decision.”

As such, starting at 2 p.m. on Friday, all workplaces except essential ones will operate in accordance with approved regulations. Marketplaces will be closed and people will only be allowed to travel one kilometer from home, unless for an approved reason.

Prayer and demonstrations must take place in open spaces, can have no more than 20 people and must also take place within a kilometer of home. Synagogues will be closed, except for prayers on Yom Kippur in accordance with the pre-approved outline that was followed on Rosh Hashanah.

In some ways, this closure is more flexible than the one in March.

During the first lockdown, the public could only venture between 100 and 500 meters from their homes. Now, there is no limit on travel for food, exercise or other essential needs – so long as it is being performed alone or with one’s family.

Regarding the airport, details of the plan have still not been finalized and are only expected to be decided next week.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev reportedly proposed an outline that would keep Ben-Gurion Airport open for the coming week to allow those who have already booked flights to travel. Then, the next week, flights would be limited to cargo and inbound flights.

Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay walked out of the cabinet meeting in anger, saying that Netanyahu was guilty of making decisions based on “foreign considerations” that did not reflect the recommendations of the professionals.

He also told Blue and White leader and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz that he would resign to protest his party’s support for a lockdown that includes limiting political demonstrations.

Shay, who is a successful hi-tech entrepreneur, expressed his opposition in a meeting of Blue and White ministers. He left in anger when his view was not accepted.

Gantz asked to meet him before he submitted his resignation letter.

Shay’s spokesman said the resignation was not final.

“He’s a man of his word and principles,” a source close to Shay said. “He has always said that as long as he feels he can contribute, he will continue. I trust he must have seen decisions made that are political and make no sense to the welfare of the people, or that politicians are making decisions and not listening to the advice of the professionals.”

Earlier Thursday, Gantz explained his support for the lockdown that is set to begin on Friday.

“We are in a time of national emergency,” he said. “This is a war for our lives. We cannot lose this war due to rifts.”

Gantz apologized to both protesters and synagogue goers, saying they will both return soon. He said he believed in the right to protest and pray in large groups, but this was not the time.

But Lapid lashed out strongly at the decision and called on Gamzu to resign to protest Netanyahu silencing him and other professionals.

“They shut the mouths of the pros, especially Gamzu,” Lapid said Thursday evening. “All the experts were against a complete lockdown. They were shut down. We’re going into this lockdown without any sort of plan, without defining clear goals.”

The opposition leader said the lockdown was avoidable and it is not true that the second wave has hit the whole world. He said the second wave is hitting those who didn’t prepare for it, in countries where the government didn’t prepare.

“The reason for this lockdown isn’t Covid-19,” he said. “The reason is the failed, political, negligent and hysterical management of the crisis by this government and by the prime minister. This is a failure and one person is responsible for it; this is a failure and it is Netanyahu’s failure.”

Gamzu said that he would not resign.

“I will move forward and prepare for the day after the closure,” he stressed. “We will leave this closure different than after the first wave.”

He said that he took his role to stop the virus and “I want to provide a plan for how to live alongside coronavirus until April or May at least… I will not break down; I will stay until the final day.”

The prime minister spoke about medical developments he expects to occur soon.

 “I am working toward implementing a rapid coronavirus test that can give results in minutes,” Netanyahu said. “Above all, we are working on obtaining a vaccine to Israel. I could not say that [before] and I was careful, but today I say there is light at the end of the tunnel. There will be a vaccine and I am working to have one in Israel as soon as possible.”

Despite the decision Gamzu once again said that he would not quit, and would prepare for the day after the closure.

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