Photo Credit: Yossi Zeliger / Flash 90
Soroka Medical Center medical staff member works at the Coronavirus Dept of Soroka Medical Center, in Be'er Sheva, on September 15, 2020.

Pre-teens are heading back to school on Sunday, stores are still open and so far, the Festival of Lights will be celebrated in happiness and not with lockdowns – at least, that is the latest assessment from Israel’s Health Ministry, so far.

According to a report broadcast Saturday night on Channel 12, the Health Ministry is asking the government to announce clear criteria for a third lockdown so the public will know what to expect.

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The Coronavirus Cabinet is expected to meet on Sunday afternoon, when the latest figures will be reviewed together with the dreaded questions of what comes next, and when.

New Daily Cases Top 1,000
But the numbers are increasing. A report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center on Friday said the average number of new daily patients has topped 1,000 and includes an increase in people over the age of 60.

The center also warned in its report that for every two days in which the existing infection rate is maintained, “a full day of lockdown will be required.”

There were 1,506 new cases of the virus diagnosed Friday – the ninth day out of ten in which more than 1,000 Israelis had tested positive for COVID-19. Out of the 552 coronavirus patients who were hospitalized, 314 were listed in serious condition, including 97 who were on life support, using ventilators to breathe.

There were 13,054 Israelis actively fighting the virus by Friday morning – including 1,830 from Jerusalem alone. Since the start of the pandemic, 343,665 Israelis have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 2,901 Israelis have lost their lives to this virus.

Arab Sector: Youth Need to ‘Mask Up’
In the Arab sector, it is younger people, teens and young adults, who comprise the sector with the highest numbers at this point, according to Nachman Ash, the Coronavirus Commissioner.

Ash visited the Arab towns of Mashhad and Shfaram this weekend – the latter town is a red zone right now – and urged the population there to “Take care of yourselves. It is important because otherwise, you will infect older people.”

While there, Ash addressed the issue of the upcoming Christian holidays and said Christmas will have to be celebrated “differently” this year.

“Unlike in previous years, gatherings should be reduced to nuclear families; there should not be big celebrations, no gatherings,” he cautioned.

“If we make sure that the virus does not spread, we will get out of it quickly – and next year we will be able to celebrate joyously again.”

Some forty percent of new daily cases are coming from within the Arab sector; given that Arabs comprise around 21 percent of the Israeli population, this means they are becoming infected at about twice the rate of the rest of the population, in part due to the nature of the culture, which includes mass gatherings, mass weddings, and large extended families living together in close quarters.

No Restrictions Until After Hanukah
The Health Ministry has had similar issues enforcing coronavirus health restrictions in the strictly Orthodox Jewish population as well, which has many of the same issues – mass celebrations and extended families living in close quarters.

At this point, it appears officials will not attempt to initiate any new restrictions until after the Jewish holiday of Hanukah. Families will likely be strongly urged to celebrate the eight-day festival with their nuclear families only, however.

Depending on the Hanukah numbers, it’s anyone’s guess whether the first move after the holiday will be a night curfew, mall closure, a new list of red zones, or simply another lockdown.

Place your bets.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.