"We are at the beginning of the second wave," Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein said at a press conference yesterday, against a background of rising numbers of people infected with the Covid-10 virus in Israel.
"From my first day at the ministry I decided not to be the outlier," said Edelstein, who appeared impatient during his briefing, attacking the media for the way it presented coronavirus patient numbers ,and even government colleagues. "I decided to take into account both health and economic considerations, and I took action to restart public transport and events, but I took care to say that if we did not comply with instructions, we would be liable to find ourselves in lockdown. I boosted enforcement. My point of departure is that anyone who does not follow the guidelines damages not only himself but also the entire economy.
"Today, I presented my recommendations to the coronavirus cabinet. The recommendations are not pleasant, but they are essential in order to avoid general harm. A lockdown means huge economic damage. Our aim is maximum benefit and minimum damage."
Edelstein spoke of limitations on event venues, and said that the Ministry of Finance should compensate the venue owners. Among other putative measures are restrictions on religious services, and examinations for university students remotely wherever possible.
"We want to reach a situation in which 30% of civil servants work from home," Edelstein said. "We still don’t want to place restrictions on the private sector. I call on businesspeople in the private sector to let employees work remotely wherever possible."
On the number of severe coronavirus cases, Edelstein said, "It's true that we are not at present seeing a dramatic rise in the number of patients on ventilators. Excuse the cynicism, but sometimes people sit in television studios and say 'Where are the tens of thousands on ventilators? I'm sure that no-one is sorry that we don’t have more people on ventilators. I was very glad to be told today that we are among the countries carrying out the highest numbers of tests. When we did 5,000 tests, the numbers were inadequate. There were 0.5% confirmed cases. Now there are 3%. I suggest not relying too much on the fact that there are few patients on ventilators. Sometimes these things multiply suddenly."
Edelstein said that several considerations were taken into account before declaring a "red spot", an area with special restrictions. He said that in places with 50 residents or more, with three-four days of an above average proportion of patients and an above average rate of increase, there would be intervention. On the education system, Edelstein said that the Ministry of Health wanted schools to operate in "capsules" but was told that this couldn't be done. He said that he was waiting to see a plan that would do the maximum possible, but that clearly closing the education system for young children would in effect amount to shutting down the economy.
Earlier yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that some restrictions might be reinstated, such as on large events and on non-vital employees attending workplaces.
When Edelstein took up his post, he declared that he was in favor of a policy of easing restrictions, and all the measures he has introduced so far have been in this direction. At the same time, he increased the rate of testing. It could be, however, that the rise in the number of infections despite the instructions on wearing masks, hygiene, and distancing (which many people in Israel are ignoring) will oblige him to take unpopular steps, in the face of growing protests on the part of the public, particularly among the self-employed, and the entertainment and events sectors.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 29, 2020
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