‘The virus is on the offensive, and our battle plan has to change’

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu | Photo: Emil Salman

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein reinstate restrictions on public gatherings: Nightclubs, bars, and event venues will be limited to 50 people. Other events will be limited to 20. No changes in rules for workplaces, shops, and malls.

In a special announcement Thursday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein informed the public that in light of the rise in new coronavirus cases, public gatherings would be limited to 50 participants in nightclubs, event venues, and houses of worship. Other gatherings in closed spaces will be limited to only 20 participants. Regulations for workplaces, stores, shopping centers, hotels, tourism sites, and gyms remain unchanged.

Netanyahu said that each day, nearly 200,000 new corona cases were being confirmed worldwide.

“In many countries, the number of cases has started to climb again. This is an immense storm that is claiming victims and harming the economy and our daily routine. Here, there were some who dismissed it, who said that the virus would disappear on its own because of the summer [heat], and that didn’t happen. Corona is still here,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu said he placed “great importance” on the renewal of business and economic activity, but added that during the first outbreak, he had stressed that such activity must be conducted in accordance with instructions from the public health authorities: with people wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and washing their hands.

“I also said that based on assessments of the situation and developments, we would loosen or tighten restrictions from time to time. We are always looking for the right balance between [stopping] the spread of the virus and [protecting] the economy,” he said.

Netanyahu said that the number of new cases in Israel had hit a new peak of nearly 1,000 in a day.

“The number of seriously ill patients is also going up rapidly … these numbers are clear and do not leave us any choice. We have to go back to a policy of restrictions in order to flatten the curve. That is what the rest of the world is doing – in Australia, in Texas, and in a lot of other places,” he said.

Netanyahu said that if Israel kept things the way they were, the nation would lose control over the virus and the “exponential [infection] rate will lead us to tens of thousands of patients.”

“Leadership means telling it like it is: We must change course, and now. The virus is on the offensive and when the enemy improves its position, our battle plan has to change,” he continued.

Announcing the new restrictions on public gatherings, Netanyahu noted that “young people are infecting the elderly. We aren’t changing anything when it comes to workplaces, malls, and hotels. They are important to the economy and operate under public health regulations … I know it isn’t easy, but it’s up to us.”

Netanyahu added that there was an “interesting development” in Israel in the quest to find a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID19, but said he did not want to make any promises.

“We are facing an ongoing challenge, but our people and our country have proven plenty of times in the past that they are built for this,” he said.

The prime minister also discussed a new economic aid plan for those whose income has been hurt by coronavirus.

“I know that many people are desperate for help and I am working on your behalf, constantly. We have extended the period of eligibility for unemployment benefits and added 2 billion shekels ($581 million) for financial aid. Beyond that, in the next few days, I’ll be presenting an economic aid plan for the next six months, which will provide a safety net and much more employment stability. It won’t have a predefined expiration date – you will know we are taking care of you. I also intend to ensure that the money will get to people quickly, without bureaucracy and delays.”

“I believe that we can bring the economy back to where it was before corona, and even bring it to new heights. It’s in our hands… if we observe the rules, we will beat corona,” Netanyahu said.

Edelstein, speaking after the prime minister, said, “There are nearly 1,000 new cases per day. There was some delusion that only young people were being infected, so there was no reason to worry. These past few days, we have learned that there are no miracles in this battle. Over the course of June, hospitals took in 103 seriously ill corona patients, and another 10 have already arrived on the first day and a half of July. The virus is spreading, and we see that older people and people with preexisting conditions are being infected. This is an emergency: a war for the safety of civilians.”

Health Minister Yuil Edelstein (Oren Ben Hakoon)

Edelstein noted that Israel was “less experienced” in fighting wars of this nature, but noted that when he entered the Health Ministry, the country was conducting 3,000-4,000 corona tests per day, whereas now the number stood at 20,000 per day or more.

“The question is, how long does it take from the time someone suspects they are sick until they get an answer. We aren’t doing too badly, but right now it’s 26 hours,” Edelstein said.

The health minister also addressed the problems with epidemiological research, which he says is not conducted properly. “We have added nurses. We have recruited 280 medical and nursing students. They work day and night, but I want to say plainly – there is no expert who thinks that merely by improving this system can we beat back the second wave we’re seeing.”

Edelstein said that while his heart went out to young couples who were unable to celebrate their weddings as they would have liked, “events are a source of infection. We have entire cities with a high infection rate because of one event. So there’s nothing else to do … we have to cut back the numbers of people at celebrations, clubs, and bars to 50.”

The joint press conference came after representatives of the Likud and Blue and White faced off during a meeting of the Corona cabinet earlier Thursday on the question of whether some responsibilities in the fight against corona should be transferred to the Defense Ministry, a move that Defense Minister Benny Gantz supports.

Gantz argued that the IDF Homefront Command should be charged with executing actions to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“All operations should be handed over to the Homefront Command and the Defense Ministry. We need to move to a model in which policy decisions are made in the cabinet, the Health Ministry lays out regulations, and the Defense Ministry executes them,” Gantz said.

Edelstein responded that “The Homefront Command and IDF soldiers are dear partners. But when I look at the messages about the need to move authorities away from the Health Ministry, it doesn’t seem to me like helping carry the burden. It’s called politics at the expense of the citizens of Israel.”

Another clash took place between Netanyahu and Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir, who claimed that regulations about wearing masks in public were not being enforced sufficiently. Netanyahu responded: “This isn’t the Tel Aviv Municipality.”

Netanyahu banged on the table and said, “You are playing politics. That leads to one thing,” referring to a bust-up of the unity government.

The roots of the clashes lie in Blue and White’s stance two weeks ago against reinstating electronic surveillance measures to track corona patients, which Netanyahu and his Likud ministers support. Blue and White has blocked other measures proposed by the Likud as well.

(Israel Hayom).

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