Despite Disagreements, Israeli Cabinet Settles on Coronavirus Exit Strategy

Announcement comes as new infections stabilize ■ Government fulfills testing promise but Ramadan worries remain

Noa Landau
Haaretz
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An Israel Police officer and two soldiers man a checkpoint coming into Tel Aviv during a coronavirus lockdown, April 15, 2020.
An Israel Police officer and two soldiers man a checkpoint coming into Tel Aviv during a coronavirus lockdown, April 15, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Noa Landau
Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to announce a plan to inch Israel out of the coronavirus lockdown on Thursday night, despite major disagreements between officials.

According to the announcement, a pilot program, designed by the Finance Ministry in collaboration with officials from other ministries, and in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines, will see some businesses reopen depending on their sector of activity. 

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Although kindergartens, schools, malls and markets will remain closed, Israelis will now be able to venture 500 meters away from their homes, up from 100 meters previously. They will also be able to meet for physical activity in pairs. Pupils receiving private tuition as part of special education programs will also be able to resume school.

The plan will be refined over the next 48 hours and submitted for government approval on Saturday night, April 18.

Finance Ministry officials, including Minister Moshe Kahlon (L), take part in a video-link meeting on the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, April 16, 2020.Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO

The meeting to discuss the exit strategy, attended by cabinet ministers and National Security Council representatives, and led by Benjamin Netanyahu, was fraught with disagreements on the way forward.

The Finance Ministry is pushing to see employees return to their workplace early on, while the Health Ministry is looking to maintain restrictions for longer.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is pushing for a nearly complete reopening of the day-to-day economy as early as next week, excluding people over 65, who would be asked to remain at home and receive unemployment benefits.

Netanyahu said in preliminary discussions that the plan, developed by the National Security council, must be carried out in a responsible, gradual manner.

Meanwhile, the “flattening of the curve” continued Thursday as the number of people testing positive for the virus rose by 2 percent in the day, to 12,758, the Health Ministry said. However, the number of deaths rose by nearly 10 percent, from 130 to 142.

Also, the Health Ministry said 9,268 coronavirus tests were carried out on Wednesday, a drop from Tuesday and Monday, when the ministry met its goal of 10,000 tests a day for the first time, carrying out 11,501 and 10,401 tests respectively.

A coronavirus testing station run by the Maccabi HMO, Jaffa, Israel, April 16, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

The Employment Service said the number of people filing for unemployment benefits stands at 1,093,465, an unemployment rate of 26.25 percent.

Also, a ministerial committee in charge of handling the coronavirus crisis decided to lift some restrictions affecting Jerusalem, so residents living in restricted areas will now be able to go to work. This order will be in effect at least until Sunday.

Meanwhile, the IDF and Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer finished manufacturing 100 respirators. The Intelligence Corps’ technology unit, 8-1, along with Sheba, have completed the development of respiratory machines in the “Air to Breathe” project.

It was announced that Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound will be closed to Muslim worshippers throughout the holy fasting month of Ramadan due to the coronavirus epidemic, the Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islam’s third-holiest site said.

In East Jerusalem, 81 people have tested positive for the virus, and one patient has recovered so far. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the West Bank stands at 282, out of which 52 have recovered, the Palestinian Authority said. In Gaza, 13 people have been diagnosed with the illness, of which eight have recovered.

Israel Police forces deploy in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, in Jerusalem, to enforce movement restrictions, April 16, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Meanwhile, the Israel Police said that since March they have given out some 36,000 fines to people violating the coronavirus emergency regulations, mostly to Israelis who were outside the permitted 100-meter radius from their home. Police have launched 195 investigations into people suspected of violating quarantine, issued 129 closure orders for businesses violating regulations, and undertaken 49 probes of people suspected of spreading false and potentially dangerous information about the pandemic.

In related news, the Knesset gave preliminary approval to a bill allowing police to track the cellphones of people in quarantine.

Meanwhile, in Turkey the number of cases of COVID-19 rose by 4,801 in the past 24 hours, and 125 more people died, bringing the death toll in the country to 1,643.

With reporting by Jack Khoury, Ido Efrati, Yaniv Kubovich, Josh Breiner, Lee Yaron, Jonathan Lis and Reuters.

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