93 people dead * Testing in senior facilities increases * PM slams Bennett for public attack
By MAAYAN JAFFE-HOFFMAN and ANNA AHRONHEIM, JPOST
Residents stand on their balcony as they watch Israeli soldiers performing for them in a bid to assist civilians observing government stay-at-home orders to help fight the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Tel Aviv, Israel April 7, 2020. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
The curfew and other restrictions imposed on Israelis to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic over the Passover holiday were lifted Friday at 6 a.m., notwithstanding that the number of Israelis infected with the novel virus has hit 10,095, of whom 164 are in serious condition, and 93 have died.
As of Friday morning, 125 people are intubated.
An extension through the end of the seven-day Festival of Freedom that was considered would have continued the ban on intercity travel except in urgent cases and when food, medicine or other essential services are not available nearby. Still, public transport – except cabs – and flights will not run until Sunday morning. And, as has become the new normal, citizens will only be able to walk 100 meters from their home.
Channel 12 reported that some airlines received permission from the Transportation and Interior ministries to land in the country, including from places with high coronavirus counts, such as New York City. Those travelers cleared customs at Ben-Gurion Airport without being tested for coronavirus and weren’t ordered into isolation, according to the news. The Health Ministry said it was unaware of the flights.
At the same time, the National Security Council said it has presented an exit strategy plan for after Passover. The phased plan includes increasing the percentage of workers allowed to return to the field, plus testing different models of working in shifts or on different days. Special education would resume and slowly thereafter preschools, and eventually the entire school system.
Soon, the NSC’s plan would allow for people to travel further from their homes. The plan, however, keeps malls and most recreational establishments closed.
The multi-stage plan also involves releasing cities by level of infection – least infected first – and people by age category – youngest and healthiest first.
This comes on the backdrop of discussions about extending the closure just on those cities with the highest rates of infection, such as Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, though that idea has faced stiff opposition in the cabinet. Overnight, a special ministerial committee on coronavirus made a decision to extend the Bnei Brak lockdown by five days, but to lighten some of the restrictions on the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city.
On Thursday night, the Health Ministry released updated data on the numbers of coronavirus patients by municipality. The report showed a promising trend in most areas.
Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov told Channel 12 that the trends are due to both the country’s coronavirus policies and the public’s adhering to the ministry’s guidelines.
However, not all cities are alike. In Jerusalem, the number of confirmed coronavirus patients between Tuesday and Thursday increased by 11.3% and reached 1,630, while in Bnei Brak it spiked by 15% within two days to 1,594.
There was also a sharp 25% increase of patients in Elad and a 24% increase in Tiberias. In Rishon Lezion, the number of patients rose by 18% within two days and reached 180. In Modi’in Illit, the number of confirmed patients increased by 15.2% to 174.
In Tel Aviv, which has the fourth highest number of patients, there are now 415 infected people, up 5.6% in the last two days.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett slammed the Health Ministry’s proposal to continue the nation-wide lockdown past Friday morning, arguing on Thursday night that the shutdown of the country will lead to devastating economic damage.
“The sweeping closure of Israel, which was very correct at the beginning, cannot continue to be the main tool over time, due to its devastating impact on businesses and jobs in Israel,” he said. “The Health Ministry is rooted in an ideology that does not believe in the centrality of testing which is a tool for exiting this crisis.”
Bennett argued that Israelis must be able to return to work and that conducting more coronavirus tests while keeping high-risk people in quarantine, such as the elderly, but allowing others to work is more sensible.
When it comes to deaths, the great majority of Israelis who have fallen victim to COVID-19 are elderly, including many residents of the country’s senior living facilities, where former residents now constitute around 30% of all coronavirus deaths.
Four more former residents of Mishan geriatric center in Beersheba died, bringing the death toll from that facility to 12. In addition, two more people passed away from the senior center in Yavniel, bringing the death toll there to five.
The news comes amid an announcement by the Health Ministry on Tuesday that the country will be increasing screenings in nursing homes so that when one resident or staff member falls ill with coronavirus, all the residents and staff will be tested. This initiative launched already during the Passover holiday and, according to Magen David Adom and the Health Ministry, some 3,000 tests were carried out in nursing homes on Thursday. A similar number is expected to be performed each of the coming days.
Nonetheless, Bennett called once again Thursday night for his ministry and the IDF to be given immediate responsibility for testing in an effort to curb the virus. He warned that the country not only risks not being able to exit the crisis but a renewed outbreak of the pandemic.
“Without extensive, quick and accurate testing, we will have to continue the ‘hammer’ approach that requires a sweeping closure on all Israeli citizens, instead of a ‘tweezers’ policy that will allow the Israeli economy to open alongside local isolation of corona carriers or the closure of specific corona areas,” he said.
According to the defense minister, there are too few tests and those tested must wait five to six days before receiving a result.
“The lack of belief in the importance of the tests is as if a brigade commander does not want to receive intelligence on enemy territory for action,” he said. “This is the most urgent task of the Israeli government. We shouldn’t waste even one day.”
In response, a senior official close to the prime minister said that “in an emergency, a government minister is expected to behave responsibly and hold discussions in the professional forums of the government, and not in the media. The prime minister, who is conducting the fight against coronavirus responsibly and optimally with experts in Israel and around the world, allows all ministers to express their views fully in government debates.”
On the positive side, three recovering coronavirus patients aged 91, 96 and 97 were released from the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya over the holiday, and returned to their senior facility in the city.
The country’s youngest coronavirus patient, a five-week-old baby boy who was hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer on Wednesday, is in good condition and his life is not in danger, according to hospital. The boy is being treated in the hospital’s coronavirus unit by a pediatric intensive care team. It is assumed that the baby became infected by a close family member who is also being treated for the virus at Sheba.
For the most part, Israelis obeyed the emergency regulations imposed for the Passover holiday in an effort to curb the spread of the deadly disease.
Thousands of police officers, accompanied by some 1,400 unarmed IDF soldiers, enforced the nation-wide lockdown regulations as part of “Operation Spring Protection.” The police used helicopters, drones and “other technology” to enforce the regulations, and handed out more than 1,000 fines to people violating the curfew.
Beginning at 7 a.m. on Sunday, the wearing of a face mask in public spaces by anyone over the age of six and without a disability will be mandatory. Citizens will be required to wear masks while driving if they have another person in their car who is not a member of their immediate family.