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UAE, Israel Struggle with Surge in Coronavirus Cases

Jewish state could be on verge of monthlong closure unless daily infections brought down

Representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Israel will gather at the White House next week to sign a peace accord between their countries, but the focus this week is on domestic gatherings as both nations deal with rises in COVID-19 cases.

Israeli police broke up seven weddings on Tuesday night, the first evening that a 7 pm to 5 am curfew went into effect in 40 cities and neighborhoods labeled red zones because of high infection rates.

“Our police officers both set up roadblocks in and around the different areas as well as patrolled and carried out activities within the community areas and we entered and shut down different halls where there were actual weddings taking place. We gave out fines and we arrested the owners of the halls,” Micky Rosenfeld, Israel Police foreign media spokesperson, told The Media Line.

But with more than 3,000 new cases reported in Israel on each of the past two days and consistently high numbers during the past two weeks, the country could be on the verge of a monthlong national lockdown. Rosenfeld said weddings in Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, attended by large numbers of people who do not observe COVID precautions, were the main cause of the rise in infections.

Health Ministry officials and hospital directors held a meeting via Zoom on Tuesday night in which they discussed the possibility of implementing a national lockdown to bring down the morbidity rates.

“I’m very worried,” Prof. Gili Regev-Yochai, director of the Infection Prevention and Control Unit at Sheba Medical Center, told The Media Line. “You see the numbers going up and instead of closing things, we’re still having weddings and a lot of large gatherings and right now we’re just before the [fall Jewish] holidays, which typically in a regular year is a time of huge gatherings both in synagogues and a lot of family gatherings.”

Tuesday’s 3,506 new infections brought the total number of cases in Israel to 138,179, with 29,532 active cases, 472 patients in severe condition and 140 on respirators, according to the Health Ministry. A total of 1,048 people have died from the novel coronavirus in Israel and 107,599 have recovered.

I’m very worried. You see the numbers going up and instead of closing things, we’re still having weddings and a lot of large gatherings and right now we’re just before the [fall Jewish] holidays, which typically in a regular year is a time of huge gatherings both in synagogues and a lot of family gatherings

The UAE is also managing an increase in coronavirus cases, although not at the level that Israel is dealing with. On Wednesday, the Gulf state saw its biggest spike in daily infections since May 27, with 883 new cases confirmed.

Daily infections have been steadily rising in the UAE since they dropped to as low as 164 in early August.

UAE health officials on Tuesday renewed a warning against social gatherings after a man carrying COVID-19 infected 45 other people, including his wife and members of three families.

One of the man’s relatives, a 90-year-old with underlying health conditions, died from complications after being admitted to an intensive care unit, a health official said.

“The recent increase in new coronavirus cases is likely the result of a steady easing of coronavirus-related restrictions on movement and other activities over the past few weeks,” Robert Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line.

Mogielnicki cited the lifting this summer of the countrywide curfew, a gradual reopening to international visitors, and schools opening the academic year, as possible explanations.

As of Wednesday, the total number of coronavirus cases in the UAE stood at 75,981, with 8,229 active cases, 393 deaths and 67,359 recoveries, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.

“The warning signals are not flashing red at the moment – the daily coronavirus death rate in the country is very low and has not increased since early May,” Mogielnicki added.

According to a report from the Deep Knowledge Group ranking 200 countries and regions in terms of how safe it is to be there during the coronavirus pandemic, both Israel and the UAE are in elite company. Israel ranks third, trailing only Switzerland and Germany, while the UAE ranks 11th.

However, in the previous ranking, Israel held the top position. The new report attributes Israel’s slipping two spots on the list to economic vulnerability but also to the number of new cases beginning to rise following the previous steady decline in the spread of infections and the mortality rate.

“While Israel’s current situation could be altered quite rapidly given how recent these changes in the rate of COVID-19 spread have occurred, it must be dealt with swiftly in the form of changes to its lockdown relaxation and economic recovery mandates that reflect the adapting reality of the pandemic within its own borders,” the report states.

Rosenfeld emphasized to The Media Line the importance of the nightly lockdowns in the 40 red zones. Police units have been dispatched to cities and neighborhoods to ensure implementation of health and safety measures, he said.

Regev-Yochai said that she is not sure that a nationwide lockdown is required, but that something different must be done to prevent the coronavirus from spiraling out of control in Israel.

“Even if there is some policy for closing some things, apparently nothing is really being closed,” she said. “So, I’m not sure we really need a total lockdown, but obviously [we need] much more closing of any gathering. No weddings allowed, forbidding all kinds of gatherings that are in closed rooms. Obviously, that has to be really forbidden.”

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