Prime Minister Benjamin said that the current three-week lockdown in place in Israel will last at least a month — possibly a lot longer — and refused to give a specific time frame as the country battles the rampant spread of COVID-19.
“The numbers [of infected] are climbing, they will rise even more. The lockdown will take no less than a month and possibly a lot more time,” Netanyahu said, adding that lifting the lockdown will be based “on the number of infected and other factors.”
His pronouncement comes as Israel’s daily coronavirus infection numbers hit the highest per capita rate in the world this week.
Currently all shops, malls, gyms, school and restaurants are closed across Israel delivering a severe blow to the nation’s economy. Even the airport is closed to most outgoing flights.
According to numbers from international health organizations, Israel reached a daily average of 703 new daily diagnoses per million citizens compared to the next highest country, Spain, at 234 confirmed cases per million citizens. The U.S. is at 133. Israel is also leading the global table for daily deaths per capita over the last week, with some 3.5 deaths per million citizens.
The number of seriously ill patients has surpassed 800, a number which was set by health officials as a red line that signaled the potential crash of the nation’s hospitals.
“I’m very worried,” said Dror Mevorach of Hadassah Medical Center. “I see the people, I see the deaths, I see the prolonged disease.”
“Unfortunately I’m not surprised, I predicted this a month ago,” he said. “The problem is that the government did not react to clear signs seen in July and magnified in early September.”
Testing was down this week due to Yom Kippur, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar when everything in Israel shuts down. But as testing picked up again, 15 percent of tests came back positive on Wednesday, according to the Health Ministry with 4,953 new coronavirus cases.
But in the meantime, politics is running just as unchecked as the coronavirus. The Knesset on Wednesday passed a controversial measure to curtail public protests — a matter that had been delayed, along with restrictions on prayers gatherings until after Yom Kippur. That prevented any backfire from Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition.
Reports have emerged of flagrant disregard for Israel’s coronavirus rules — from limiting the number of worshippers to masking and social distancing — in some of the country’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods during the holidays.
According to Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy, 34 percent of Israelis diagnosed with the virus in Israel are ultra-Orthodox — even though they comprise only 12 percent of the population.
“The ultra-Orthodox sector, due to overcrowding and prayers which sometimes violate the rules of conduct, has reached a high level of morbidity. It must be treated and a solution must be found, because it affects ultra-Orthodox society, the infection rate in general and hospitals,” Levy said.
This is Israel’s second full shutdown, and the country was supposed to reopen from this one on Oct. 11.