Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90
A masked man playing his accordion in downtown Jerusalem during the lockdown, October 11, 2020.

According to Health Ministry data, the declining trend in morbidity in Israel continues, with only 1,609 new verified patients recorded on Sunday. On the other hand, only 22,777 test results were received on Sunday, which continues a steep decline in the number of tests performed in recent days.

Reshet Bet radio reported on Monday morning that the number of tests being conducted in the “red” cities in Israel is declining because people simply refuse to be tested.

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The number of active patients as of Monday morning is 51,698. There are 823 critical patients, out of whom 224 are on respirators. To date, 1,983 have died from the pandemic.

The general lockdown that began at noon on Friday, September 25, and was scheduled until after Simchat Torah, is still in effect. The government approved restrictions on demonstrations and prayers, with both activities being confined to a distance of one kilometer from one’s home.

Only essential businesses continue to operate: grocery stores, opticians, pharmacies and stores selling hygiene products, home maintenance products, communication products, laundries, and computer repair labs.

The Corona Cabinet will convene on Tuesday to discuss an exit strategy from the lockdown.

The two main points of contention in the cabinet are the timing of the first phase of the relief, and the need for further restrictions on “red” localities, where the population is largely Haredi. This was leaked by sources who participated on Sunday in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s zoom conversation with senior members of the health system and a small group of government ministers.

Netanyahu and most of the ministers in that zoom conversation expressed support for the implementation of what they defined as “Phase 0” in easing the lockdown – a preliminary move that would include opening small businesses with up to ten employees that don’t admit customers; as well as reopening the daycare facilities and kindergartens for ages 0-6.

Dr. Sharon Elrai Price / Ministry of Health, Israel

The Head of Public Health Services, Dr. Sharon Elrai Price, stated on Sunday that the Health Ministry is formulating a strategy to avoid the need for future lockdowns. Her program includes nine phases, with a period of at least two weeks between each phase, and the transition being conditioned on continued decline of morbidity indices. According to Dr. Elari Price, morbidity indices should dictate the rate of progress, not external considerations or dates.

At the same time, Dr. Elrai Price clarified that the morbidity indices do not yet allow the implementation of her outline to begin this coming Sunday, including the reopening of schools.

This exacerbates the problem for Haredi rabbis and politicians, who plan to reopen the Talmud Torah for young students this week, with the yeshivas opening next week. The Haredi leadership is very concerned about the consequences of the continued closure of educational institutions. Apparently in Haredi cities there has been a large increase in the number of homes that are connected to the Internet, despite the rabbis’ prohibitions. An immediate return to school is therefore a necessary step against the weakening of the faith in Haredi families whose children are glued to the Internet. But this need to bar outside influences does not match the morbidity situation in the Haredi localities, and the educational institutions there may once again become centers of spreading the virus.

The exit strategy from the lockdown is a nine-step plan:

  1. Kindergartens and early childhood education, jobs without public reception, opening of national parks and beaches, approval for takeaway from restaurants
  2. Return of first to fourth grades, permitting complementary medicine and non-medical treatments
  3. Opening of trade, business that receive customers, B & Bs, and houses of worship
  4. Opening of restaurants, cafes and gyms, returning to the traffic light program which enforces a localized lockdown
  5. Opening of hotels and public pools
  6. Return of fifth to twelfth graders to regular studies
  7. Opening of the cultural and leisure industries, public conferences, and exhibitions
  8. Opening of outdoor and indoor banquet halls
  9. Sporting events with an audience, and reopening of clubs

All the senior officials at the Health Ministry, including Minister Yuli Edelstein, CEO Hezi Levy, Corona Czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu, and Dr. Elrai Price have stated the only criterion for implementing the 9-step strategy should be morbidity data standing at 2,000 or fewer newly verified patients per day.

Regarding the need to return the traffic light program and the differential treatment of various localities, the same Health Ministry senior officials are convinced that without the traffic light measures the exit plan will fail. On Sunday, CEO Levy told Kan 11 that a tight lockdown should only be imposed in 13 red cities. But Levy also admitted that there is “Haredi resentment” over the differential model.

In other words, the political powers that be intend to gradually introduce relief in all the sectors, regardless of the morbidity differences between them, starting next Sunday. So good luck to all of us as Israel hits the trajectory that culminates in a third lockdown.

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