Israel Announces New Measures to Battle Spreading Virus
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his visit to the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem on September 8, 2020. (Alex Kolomiensky/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel Announces New Measures to Battle Spreading Virus

Health experts, government officials warn of public distrust in ‘confusing’ politicians

Following days of inaction and aborted efforts, the Israeli cabinet finally approved a set of restrictions on Tuesday meant to stem the record-setting pace of COVID-19 infections ravaging the country.

Yet health experts and government officials in charge of implementing the measures told The Media Line that they anticipate a challenge in convincing people to adhere to the latest decrees, saying public trust in government policy has “justifiably” reached a new low.

That’s a very dangerous process. It leads to distrust in the system. The public has had enough

“During the first wave [of infections in April], health officials had the support of the political level. Now, even after a decision has been made and a professional consensus has been reached, politicians zigzag and change their minds because of pressure from their constituents,” complains Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a member of the team of experts advising ‘coronavirus czar’ Ronni Gamzu in recent weeks.

“That’s a very dangerous process. It leads to distrust in the system. The public has had enough,” Davidovitch told The Media Line.

The limited lockdown, set to kick in Tuesday night in 40 towns and neighborhoods throughout the country, will ban people from going more than 500 meters from their homes between 7 pm and 5 am. All schools, excepting special education facilities, will be shuttered. Any indoor gatherings of more than 10 people, or outside gatherings of over 20 people, will be prohibited. All places of business deemed nonessential will be shut.

This final version of the anti-virus plan, labeled the “corona curfew” by government officials, was agreed on after previous suggestions raised by Gamzu and accepted by the cabinet were repeatedly scrubbed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu because of political concerns and pressure from numerous city councils.

The initial proposal to impose a complete shutdown of mostly ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, hit hardest by the virus, was canceled on Sunday after Netanyahu’s loyal coalition partners, the ultra-Orthodox members of parliament, launched an unprecedented barrage of attacks and political threats against him. According to them, the decision to lock down exclusively ultra-Orthodox towns constituted a discriminatory and even anti-Semitic act, not a health measure.

“If the government doesn’t have the experts’ back, and anyone can change government decisions with some political pressure, with no logic or reasoning, then we have a problem,” Davidovitch states.

“I expect people like [United Torah Judaism Chairman and Housing Minister Yakov] Litzman and [Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Aryeh] Deri not to straddle the fence and shout out their comments, but to take some responsibility and help us deal with the large outbreak in their communities,” Davidovitch said, singling out the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties in parliament. “But [they are] afraid of the [political] ramifications of [doing] that.”

There is no clarity as to what the restrictions are. They change at such a fast rate, so I can understand why the public is confused and frustrated. We need more clarity, more transparency, more stability and steadiness in the government’s decisions. The leaders need to speak with the public plainly and explain the situation

Ayman Saif, a Health Ministry official and the “coronavirus czar” for the Arab sector, agrees with the notion of sagging public trust in the decision-makers.

“Unfortunately, the long time it took to reach [today’s] decision and the general lollygagging by the government creates distrust in the general public, and certainly in the Arab community,” Saif told The Media Line.

“There is no clarity as to what the restrictions are. They change at such a fast rate, so I can understand why the public is confused and frustrated,” Saif continued. “We need more clarity, more transparency, more stability and steadiness in the government’s decisions. The leaders need to speak with the public plainly and explain the situation.”

Still, Saif believes the government’s watered-down version of restrictions announced Tuesday will help stem the tide. “It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” he says. “The situation in the 28 Arab villages that will be placed under curfew will improve. But I’m not sure how much it will help the national status.”

On Monday, Israel broke its own single-day record for new coronavirus infections for the second time in one week. More than 3,400 cases were diagnosed at a positivity rate of nearly 9%. For the past several days, Israel has maintained its position as the global leader of new infections per capita.

Experts are unanimous in their assertion that the latest measures will not suffice.

“The big concern in the Arab community is the weddings,” Saif explains, referring to hundreds of celebrations held in recent weeks, sometimes numbering over 1,000 guests. “There has to be better enforcement to go along with the restrictions for them to be effective.”

[Gamzu] won’t be able to go on if he feels that he can’t affect the decision-making. It’s hard to do your job when you don’t receive support from the government that appointed you

“I’m not a big supporter of lockdowns,” admits Davidovitch. “We need to do more to reach out to these communities, explain to local leaders, support them, prevent infections that way.”

As for Gamzu himself, Davidovitch said that while “he can’t talk publicly like I do [about the government’s lack of support] because of his status, he is definitely very worried. He won’t be able to go on if he feels that he can’t affect the decision-making. It’s hard to do your job when you don’t receive support from the government that appointed you.”

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