Israel Weighs Nighttime Curfew as COVID Infection Rate Reaches Highest Point Since September

The cabinet will also discuss loosening other restrictions although Health Ministry statistics show the pandemic is still spreading

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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People wearing face masks in Jerusalem, November, 2020.
People wearing face masks in Jerusalem, November, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The coronavirus cabinet is set to discuss Sunday imposing a nighttime curfew as the rate of infection continues to climb and is the highest it has been since the second coronavirus wave swept across Israel in September.

Health Ministry data shows that the R-number, denoting the rate of the incidence of disease, currently stands at 1.04. The ministry argues that imposing nighttime curfews won’t help lower the number of new cases.  

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An R-number higher than 1 indicates that each COVID-19 carrier has infected more than one other person on average, which means the pandemic keeps spreading. The highest R-number was registered in the Arab society and now stands at 1.07, compared to 0.92 in the ultra-Orthodox community and 0.94 in the general population.   

The cabinet will also discuss loosening other restrictions as part of the government's exit plan approved last month, which includes reopening malls and commercial centers as well as resuming in-person classes for grades fifth through sixth. The Health Ministry's assessment is that these measures are expected to increase the incidence of illness.

A senior Health Ministry official told Haaretz it's possible to impose a night curfew and examine its effect, "but not while the exit plan is in progress and additional places are opening."  

Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who recently finished his tenure as Israel's coronavirus czar, said Thursday that a night curfew would likely not have a significant effect, as restaurants and large parts of leisure facilities remain closed anyway.

"I'm not sure there is any country with as many restrictions as Israel that is imposing nighttime curfews," Gamzu said.

According to the exit plan, the condition for moving to the next step in relaxing the lockdown is an R-number lower than 0.8 and a daily increase in new cases of less than 2,000. About a month ago, the R-number was 0.6, and there were fewer than 500 cases per day.  

The encouraging figures that followed the second lockdown led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to instruct the exit plan be shortened from its original nine stages to six. About two weeks ago, the Health Ministry spoke out against reopening street shops, as the R-number stood at 0.88 – but they were reopened anyway. Last week, Netanyahu said there would be no further easing of the lockdown unless the statistics improve.

According to Health Ministry figures released on Sunday morning, there were 164 new confirmed cases since last night and the number of active cases stood at 7,947. Eleven more people died, bringing the death toll to 2,732.  In addition, 298 people were hospitalized in serious condition, including 129 on ventilators. Sunday saw 12,890 tests being conducted, with the rate of positive cases standing at 2.3 percent.

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