Cabinet to declare red zones in nine cities • Gantz enters quarantine

President Reuven Rivlin attends the Knesset session in which the new government was presented (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESWOMAN - ADINA WALLMAN)
President Reuven Rivlin attends the Knesset session in which the new government was presented (photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESWOMAN – ADINA WALLMAN)


President Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday afternoon that “the State of Israel did not develop a clear combat theory to fight the coronavirus,” according to Israel’s Channel 13, as a record number of new cases were registered in the span of 24 hours – 1,348 – and serious cases also significantly increased.

“We do not have a single body that keeps track of the information, the battle, the coping, and the discussion with the public,” Rivlin clarified. “The reins must be placed in the hands of the body that can bring about the best results, to which all of the other ministries subordinate themselves and assist.”

As of Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in consultations with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein to declare red zones in several cities, after the government decided in the morning to put the whole city of Beitar Illit in lockdown for a week, since 169 people were found infected with the virus there this past week. According to Channel 12, the additional cities that could be affected are Jerusalem, Ashdod, Lod, Modiin Illit, Ramle, Raanana, Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak and Kiryat Malachi.

Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as well as an entire IDF battalion, entered quarantine after coming into contact with coronavirus patients. Gantz said that he will remain in isolation until a coronavirus test and the epidemiological survey are completed.

“I feel great, and intend to continue working as usual,” Gantz reassured. “There is no room to take risks.”

The IDF’s Nachshon Battalion was also forced to go in isolation after several among its hundreds of soldiers tested positive for the virus, the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom reported. The origin of the infection might have been a female soldier who recently organized a birthday party attended by someone who was found to be infected. According to the report, the soldier, who is among the identified patients, might stand trial after she recovers.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Yoav Galant on Wednesday unveiled a new plan for the next school year in light of the coronavirus crisis.

The plan envisions three possible frameworks under which schools will operate starting from September 1, as reported by the Hebrew website Ynet. In the first scenario, middle and high schools will offer a combination of in-person and remote learning, while elementary schools and preschools will function as they have been, in person with additional safeguards.

In the second scenario, students from grades 5 through 12 will study from home, while those in grades 1 to 4 will be divided in smaller groups and taught in person; preschools will continue to function in current settings with additional safeguards. In the third option, preschool children will also be split into smaller groups.

The minister vowed to provide teachers and schools with masks and all the material and infrastructure needed, as well as training for additional staff. The cost is estimated at NIS 1 billion.

In the evening, the report released by the Health Ministry revealed that not only were over 1,300 new cases registered in the previous 24 hours, but the number of serious patients also increased significantly from the previous update: 113 compared to 86 as of Tuesday night. Overall, 33,175 people in Israel have been infected with the virus, while there are currently 14,516 active cases, 405 of whom are hospitalized. Moreover, there are currently 39 intubated patients. Since the beginning of the crisis, 344 Israelis have succumbed to the virus.

As a consequence of the spike in infections, Gantz announced that in the next 48 hours the Defense Ministry would open two or three more hotels for coronavirus patients, at least one of which will be devoted to the ultra-Orthodox sector. There are currently 12 such hotels, half for the ultra-Orthodox.

New coronavirus regulations for public transportation continued to generate confusion as they came into effect on Wednesday morning.

Ynet reported that starting at 9 a.m., the new rules limited the number of passengers on city buses to 30, on intercity lines to 32 and on elongated buses to 50, but the government did not first transmit all of the guidelines to the companies operating them.

The issue of public transportation has been very chaotic since Monday, when the authorities rolled out regulations to contain the latest coronavirus outbreak. In addition to closing or limiting the activities of cultural centers, gyms, pools, bars, clubs, hotels and restaurants, it was stated that buses would need to operate with only 20 passengers, no air-conditioning and open windows, causing an uproar in the industry which branded the conditions as not being feasible. The rules were therefore suspended.

Under the new compromise, air-conditioning can be on and windows should be open “as much as possible,” Transportation Minister Miri Regev said, according to Ynet.

Moreover, buses will stop running at 10 p.m.

On Wednesday the government also released the new requirements for the “purple ribbon” certification, under which hotels can continue to operate. Among others, access to the facilities must be restricted only to guests; a distance of two meters between members of nuclear families has to be ensured when they sit in the lobby or in the dining room, whose hours and numbers of patrons are subject to limitations; the maximum possible distance between workers and guests has to be maintained at all times; and masks need to be worn in every public area of the hotel.

The efforts in enforcing the coronavirus regulations also continued on Wednesday, with the police announcing that they gave almost 4,500 fines to individuals not wearing masks.

In the afternoon, Netanyahu met with Finance Minister Israel Katz and other economic experts on “coronavirus packages,” which are financial aid packages intended for those who are self-employed, as well as those who are working or seeking work.

The package plan will be presented to the Knesset for approval at the beginning of next week.

The number of Palestinians infected with the virus is also increasing. There are about 4,500 active cases in the West Bank, 3,773 of which are in Hebron, including over 300 new cases registered today.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post