Israeli Cabinet Wants a Coronavirus Curfew. Health Officials Say It's a Waste of Time

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Pedestrians in the streets of Tel Aviv, December 7, 2020.
Pedestrians in the streets of Tel Aviv, December 7, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Senior Israeli health officials criticized a likely government decision to impose a night time curfew from Wednesday through January 2 to curb a resurgent spread of coronavirus infection.

“It won’t help and there’s no epidemiological logic to it. They are just wasting time,” one official said.

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The interministerial committee set up to manage the coronavirus pandemic, also called the coronavirus cabinet, made the decision on Monday, based on a proposal by the National Security Council that crucially did not receive the backing of the Health Ministry. The ministry believes a curfew will not significantly affect the curve of infection. The full cabinet is expected to vote on it on Tuesday night.

Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri said at a coronavirus cabinet meeting Monday that it would be legally difficult to impose a curfew because the Health Ministry does not believe it will lower infection rates.

Nizri explained to the ministers that defending the curfew in the High Court of Justice would be problematic if a petition is submitted against it. He added that limiting the basic rights of citizens, such as freedom of movement, cannot be justified without a professional stance that it is an effective measure against the pandemic.

The curfew, he added, also contradicts the coronavirus law approved by the Knesset, which rules that the government must be convinced that the restrictions are necessary and are likely to achieve their goals.  

The proposal was raised a month ago as a way to accelerate the reopening of the economy while infections were on the rise. Even then, it was faced with opposition of some health officials, including the former coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu.

“Shutting malls is logical and reasonable, locking people in at night is illogical and not likely to have an impact,” Prof. Hagai Levine, head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, said on Tuesday.

“The government’s policy is to do the opposite of what epidemiological logic would recommend. The National Security Council... insists on taking unhealthy steps that does social and economic damage while also hurting the battle against the coronavirus, and run counter to recommendations of professionals, logic and rational thought," Levine said.

Cabinet ministers have not yet decided the exact hours for the curfew nor the rules for how far Israelis may venture from their homes. Health Ministry Director General Chezy Levy said Tuesday that he curfew would begin at 6 or 7 p.m., “a time at which people can be at home.” He added that “in principle, the nighttime curfew will not permit any substantial movement, certainly not from one city to another or from one neighborhood to another.”

According to Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, head of the school for public health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, imposing a curfew fails to deal with the real problem: enforcing bans on gatherings. “The proper way to deal with this is to provide appropriate information,” Davidovitch said, “and work with local government to find creative solutions, such as Hanukkah candle—lighting ceremonies in small groups outdoors, in addition to enforcement by local councils.”

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