Cabinet approves Independence Day lockdown; Parents demand early education reopen as gov’t weighs next coronavirus steps

The Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Machane Yehuda market in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


As the authorities deliberate strategies to gradually lift restrictions imposed to contain the coronavirus outbreak, parents protested on the Knesset lawn Wednesday, calling on the government to open up preschools and kindergartens.

The Knesset has yet to decide when to reopen programs for the country’s youngest children. Elementary, secondary and high schools are engaged in online learning.

Although the number of people infected with the virus is still rising, the current wave of the outbreak is over, Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto told Ynet. Asked about the reopening of schools, he said: “If the education system starts to operate again, it is clear to us that there will be more people infected. The state has to decide how much risk it is willing to take.”

To compensate for the school days missed because of the emergency, the authorities are looking into shortening summer vacation. In a special meeting of the Knesset covering education issues, Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuab said teachers are going to be asked to work nine additional days in July, Ynet reported.

Meanwhile, the number of people who have died from COVID-19 in Israel reached 189, the Health Ministry announced Wednesday morning. The figure marked an increase of six people over the previous 24 hours.

In addition, 14,498 people have been infected. Of them, 470 are currently hospitalized. On Tuesday, the ministry performed a record number of tests, 13,342, almost 2,000 more than the previous day.

Some 141 Israelis are in serious condition, including 106 who are intubated. The number of patients in serious condition has been decreasing over the past few days after peaking at 182 on April 17.

More than 75% of those who succumbed to the virus were older than 70; 25.54% were 70-79; 33.15% were 80-89; and 29.89% were 90-99. Among the latest victims were a 79-year-old with underlying conditions who passed away at Ma’aynei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak and an 85-year-old who was hospitalized at Shohan Medical Center in Pardes Hanna.

At last count, 5,215 people have recovered.

While the government has already started to lessen some restrictions, more limiting measures are going to be implemented for the upcoming national holidays of Remembrance Day and Independence Day, as well as for the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

Bereaved families who make their way to military cemeteries for Remembrance Day will not be stopped by force, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday.

The cabinet voted in favor of a lockdown, canceling all public transportation and banning intercity travel on Remembrance Day and Independence Day, with no additional limitations within cities, starting on Monday night and ending Wednesday night.

Police will close access routes to military cemeteries on Remembrance Day. But due to the lockdown, “we expect that people won’t come,” Bennett said, adding that “if a bereaved father walks to the cemetery, he will be allowed in. If hundreds come, it is still different from millions coming. No one will use force against bereaved families.”

Bennett urged the bereaved families to use the days before Remembrance Day to visit their loved ones while keeping to regulations.

“It was a very hard decision, but every year more than one million people come to the cemeteries, and we know that a lot of family members are elderly and there could be another explosion of coronavirus infections,” he said.

Due to the continued spread of the coronavirus, the Defense Ministry last month decided the main ceremonies at the Western Wall Plaza (on Remembrance Day Eve) and Mount Herzl (Remembrance Day) will be held without an audience and will be broadcast live.

In addition, ceremonies in the 53 military cemeteries across the country will be canceled in their usual form. Instead, soldiers will hold a candlelight vigil as well as a salute by a commander and military cantor saying the kaddish. The laying of wreaths and candles on graves will take place in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines.

The option to postpone Remembrance Day to the fall was discussed, but it was decided against because of the continued uncertainty of the coronavirus, Bennett said.

The lockdown will put a damper on the traditional Independence Day barbecues. Earlier this week, the IAF announced it would not conduct its traditional flyover, replacing it with a smaller one over hospitals to salute medical crews.

The usual free concerts sponsored by municipalities around the country were canceled weeks ago, and the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony at Mount Herzl will be filmed in advance without an audience.
The International Bible Contest held on Independence Day every year will also take place without an audience, and foreign contestants will participate from Israeli embassies and consulates in their home countries.

On Tuesday, April 28, at 5 p.m. until Wednesday, April 29, at 8 p.m., Israelis will be under lockdown and can only leave their homes for medicine and essential services. Supermarkets will be closed, and people have been instructed to celebrate the holiday at home. It will be possible to leave the house for a short walk or some exercise as per Health Ministry guidelines.

The ministers also voted in favor of a curfew for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which adherents fast in daytime and feast at night. From Thursday until May 3, businesses in predominantly Muslim towns will be closed from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. except for pharmacies.

Businesses will be able to make deliveries but not travel between towns.

The decisions about Ramadan were made in cooperation with Arab mayors, Interior Minister Arye Deri said in the meeting.

Two other changes to the coronavirus restrictions were announced on Wednesday. First, Israelis will now be able to leave their homes for job interviews. Also, the number of guests allowed at weddings is now 19, but guests have been advised to stay two meters apart.

The cabinet members also discussed the continuing limitations on businesses more generally, with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon saying “the public is exploding” and working illegally anyway. He demanded that a meeting be held on the subject as soon as possible.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit sent a letter Wednesday night to Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman that someone in the closed cabinet meetings was facilitating real-time access to the meetings’ developments to a member of the media, adding that if this continued, he would open a criminal probe.

Mandelblit said Braverman had addressed the issue with those present at a cabinet meeting after repeated violations, and the media personality had taunted Braverman in real time on social media that he would maintain his access.

Mandelblit said all those present at meetings must sign a commitment not to provide access to the media, and a criminal probe would be inevitable if the issue did not improve.

As of Wednesday evening, the number of coronavirus cases worldwide had topped 2.57 million, with some 178,500 deaths, 46,000 of them in the US.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post