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Israelis Lament Lack of Leadership as Coronavirus Cases Skyrocket
A worker at Haifa’s Rambam Health Care Campus is shown on Wednesday preparing a bed in an underground parking garage prepared for emergency use as a fortified ward during wartime. It is now earmarked for an expected overflow of coronavirus patients. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

Israelis Lament Lack of Leadership as Coronavirus Cases Skyrocket

Police enforce lockdown with roadblocks and fines as health minister orders paramedics to help staff in hospitals

Israelis have lost trust in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ability to lead the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, the biggest decline being among ultra-Orthodox Jews – one of his major pillars of support – a new survey has revealed.

What’s more, as the number of patients in Israel continues to skyrocket, the so-called coronavirus cabinet was weighing even harsher restrictions just days into a nationwide lockdown.

A survey by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute released on Wednesday found that only 27% of Israeli adults feel confident about Netanyahu’s leadership of the country’s anti-pandemic campaign. The survey was conducted late last week.

At the beginning of April, in one of the first of a series of Guttman Center surveys on the public’s views of the pandemic, 57.5% of the population expressed trust in the prime minister.

In June, 96% of the ultra-Orthodox respondents said they had faith in Netanyahu’s efforts, but that figure has now plummeted to about 40%.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews were barred by Israeli authorities – and also by Ukrainian authorities at the behest of Israel – from making a traditional pilgrimage due to the pandemic. Many have also complained that it is unfair to restrict the number of people who gather for prayers, particularly around the High Holy Days, while anti-government protests are allowed to continue.

Israel’s Health Ministry on Wednesday announced that a record-breaking 6,800 new cases had been diagnosed in the previous 24 hours. More than 1,300 Israelis have so far died of the virus.

At the normally bustling Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, an eerie calm hung over the fruit and vegetable stalls on Monday. Unlike the previous lockdown in April, the market has been allowed to remain open, but few seemed ready to venture out to partake of its goods.

“It’s very sad to see the market in this kind of state,” Shlomo Nissan, a 40-year vendor, told The Media Line.

“We’re currently open but we’re not selling anything. People are sitting at home and scared to go out even though they’re allowed to come,” he complained.

Nissan argued that it had become nearly impossible to make sense of the ever-fluctuating restrictions enacted by the government.

“The guidelines are changing every hour,” he said. “There’s no one to take the wheel. We need a single driver to tell us what we should be doing. There are no decisions here and the [government] doesn’t know how to do anything.”

The guidelines are changing every hour. There’s no one to take the wheel. We need a single driver to tell us what we should be doing

Other vendors agreed.

“I don’t understand any of it,” Aliza, who has worked at the market for 16 years, told The Media Line. “There are no people here. Everyone is scared to go out.”

Despite the lack of customers, Aliza said she preferred to come to work to avoid the boredom and loneliness from staying cooped up at home.

“At least here I can see people walking around and talk to them,” she explained.

Israel is under lockdown for the second time since the start of the pandemic and has claimed the grim title of being the country with the highest number of coronavirus cases per capita in the world.

The Guttman Center survey also found that 72% of Israelis fear that they or a family member will catch the virus. About a third of the respondents called the government restrictions appropriate, a third said they were too lenient, and the final third said they were too harsh.

In a bid to restrict movement and slow the spread of the virus, hundreds of police roadblocks have been set up across the country.

“The second wave of COVID-19 has struck Israel much more seriously and much more significantly than the first wave,” Micky Rosenfeld, the Israel Police foreign press spokesperson, told The Media Line.

The second wave of COVID-19 has struck Israel much more seriously and much more significantly than the first wave

“We are doing everything possible in order to prevent the numbers from continuing to go up,” he continued. “The numbers are exceedingly high. The hospitals and the wards in the hospitals are getting immensely busy and almost overflowing.”

In all, 7,000 police officers and 1,000 soldiers are working together to enforce the lockdown restrictions.

Shops, restaurants and malls around the country are shuttered, but many business-owners and rank and file citizens have found creative ways to skirt the rules. In Tel Aviv, for example, dozens of beachgoers used a loophole that allowed political demonstrations by telling police that being there was their way of protesting the lockdown. The police were not amused and had them leave.

According to the Guttman Center survey, close to two-thirds of the Israeli public believes that only a total lockdown, including a ban on demonstrations, is needed to bring the infection rate under control.

On Tuesday, police issued 2,132 fines to people who did not abide by the regulations.

In the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, police shut a business that was operating in violation of regulations. In Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv, several bars and restaurants found to be flouting the rules were closed. Meanwhile, in the ultra-Orthodox stronghold of Bnei Brak, law-enforcement officials shut a number of schools that were open.

Each establishment as fined NIS 5,000, the equivalent of about $1,450.

“Unfortunately, there are small numbers of people who are trying to make their way into public areas, keep restaurants open, make their way to the beach when unnecessary [or who] are pretending that they are taking part in physical activities and sports when they are not,” Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said.

Individual exercise has been permitted under the regulations.

Some Israeli hospitals are overflowing with patients and are rerouting sick people to other facilities. In response, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and ministry Director-General Chezy Levy announced on Wednesday that paramedics would immediately start working in hospitals to assist medical staff.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has also ordered the military to begin setting up a field hospital to deal with hundreds of coronavirus patients.

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