Lawsuit by Israeli Doctors Urges High Court to Revoke Nationwide Lockdown

Suit by 100 doctors and researchers says measures are based on erroneous data on COVID threat

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A man in seen wearing a mask during the coronavirus lockdown in Jerusalem, September 22, 2020.
A man in seen wearing a mask during the coronavirus lockdown in Jerusalem, September 22, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Bini Aschkenasy

Some 100 doctors and scientific researchers appealed to the High Court of Justice on Tuesday to bar the government from imposing the lockdown and related measures that went into effect at the end of last week, saying the state was basing its assumptions on erroneous data.

The suit said the government didn’t have accurate information on morbidity rates or the number of seriously ill patients or those on ventilators. As a result, it claimed, the government is needlessly concerned about the threat of a steep rise in mortality rates and the overwhelming of the health care system.

The plaintiffs also took issue with the decision to impose the lockdown during the High Holy Day period that runs to the middle of October.

“This timing imposes a burden for the country’s entire Jewish public, and even more so for those who keep the traditions,” it said. “It would have been appropriate for the Israeli government to explain to the public why the holiday period was chosen to impose the lockdown, despite the severe and unequal harm it has inflicted on vulnerable and isolated populations, including the elderly, new immigrants, the disabled and the isolated.”

Although less restrictive than Israel’s first lockdown last spring, the new measures limit people’s movement to 1,000 meters (about 0.6 mile) from their homes, except for essential purposes. Businesses that serve customers in-person are closed but retailers selling essentials remain open.

Ultra-Orthodox men walking near a tape cordoning off a high coronavirus infection area in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak, September 6, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

In addition to the 100 plaintiffs, who include Prof. Zvika Granot of the Hebrew University; Prof. Ehud Qimron of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Asher Elhayany, the former CEO of the Meuhedet health maintenance organization, another approximately 600 others joined the suit. They include doctors, scientists, businesspeople, lawyers and journalists.

The state prosecutor was due to give a response on Tuesday but hadn’t submitted one by press time.

Granot said the government must distinguish between COVID-19 carriers who show no symptoms and those who do. The tests being conducted identify carriers but not necessarily those who are actually sick. The Health Ministry doesn’t make a distinction between the two categories and is giving the cabinet inflated numbers, on which it is basing its decisions.

Regarding the fear that Israeli hospitals are close to being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, Granot said he was unable to get figures from the Health Ministry on current hospital bed occupancy rates compared to those of previous years.

The suit even takes issue with the number of coronavirus deaths, noting that total deaths in Israel in the first seven months of the year were about 27,500, or 50 fewer than during the same period in 2019.

In related news, Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron, his deputy and the rest of the monetary policy committee have gone into quarantine after a central bank employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

The central bank said on Tuesday that the employee was not a member of the MPC but had attended its meeting last Wednesday. The six MPC members will remain in isolation at least until epidemiological tests are completed. The central bank noted that committee members have been regularly working from home.

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