Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening dropped the idea of imposing a countrywide nighttime curfew after facing opposition from the national coronavirus czar and the Israel Police, among others.
At a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet, which heard from officials that a curfew was not an effective way to curb the virus spread, Netanyahu said that attention should instead be focused on a proposal to apply the measure only in local virus hotspots alongside full closures in the worst-hit areas.
“We understand that it is neither practical nor on the agenda,” Netanyahu said, according to leaks from the meeting carried by Hebrew media.
Netanyahu reportedly became impatient with the lack of progress toward making any decisions at the meeting, saying “We have an extraordinary talent for dragging out these debates.” A meeting last week had decided only to push off all decisions until this week.
“Here I am shortening the debate,” the prime minister said. “There is currently a proposal by the [coronavirus] czar to instate a nighttime curfew in orange-red cities. Let’s talk about it.”
Netanyahu was referring to a government color-coding system that identifies virus infection levels ranging from green, for low infection rates, up a scale topped by orange and red for the areas with the highest morbidity.
The high-level coronavirus cabinet was meeting to discuss further rolling back national lockdown measures, while also finding ways to address worrying signals that the decline in new infections was slowing, or even reversing.
Among the measures on the agenda of the forum of ministers who set policy for dealing with the virus outbreak was restarting in-class learning for grades 5-6 and 11-12, allowing malls to reopen, and imposing the curfew.
Newly installed national coronavirus czar Nachman Ash and the Israel Police had reportedly both voiced opposition to the idea of a national curfew, saying the proposed measure would be ineffective at tamping down the coronavirus outbreak.
Ash provided the cabinet with a presentation that cast doubt on the efficacy of nighttime restrictions while also warning against trying the measure as a counterbalance to easing other aspects of the lockdown.
“There is no real effectiveness to a night curfew, and at this stage it should not be applied as a means to allow further opening,” Ash said, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Ash, who took over from Ronni Gamzu last week, was said to be of the opinion that if nighttime curfews were applied, they must begin no later than 7 p.m., a position reportedly backed by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat.
Police also advised against the curfews, telling ministers that the cost in resources of implementing the measure outweighed the benefits.
The force also assessed that the public would find ways around the closures by holding events such as weddings in the afternoon, or arranging social gatherings before the curfew kicks in.
Evening curfews are only effective in a limited area and for a limited period of time, police were reported to tell the cabinet.
The Health Ministry was also said to be against curfews.
Instead, Ash proposed curfews on 10 “orange” cities and a full lockdown on six “red” cities, Channel 12 reported.
“This will put us in a situation where the morbidity in the orange cities does not get out of control,” Ash said and noted that illegal weddings, held in violation of current lockdown orders, are a key cause of the virus spread.
He advised raising the fines for such events, the report said.
A national panel of experts advising the coronavirus cabinet has also come out against the evening curfews and instead suggested raising fines for mass events to NIS 30,000 ($8,906) while providing incentives for local authorities to increase enforcement.
Currently, the fine for hosting a mass event that breaks lockdown rules is NIS 5,000 ($1,484).
Israel sharply brought down its daily coronavirus infection numbers from some 8,000 in mid-September to several hundred by late October with a nationwide lockdown, its second since the start of the pandemic.
The lockdown paralyzed much of public life and the economy and shuttered the entire education system. The government began removing some restrictions a few weeks ago, opening preschools and kindergartens, then grades 1-4, as well as permitting some street-front businesses to begin operations. The rest of the education system has continued with remote learning.
Sunday’s meeting of the coronavirus cabinet came amid new signs that infections in the country may be trending upward again, despite lower rates recorded over the weekend.
The Health Ministry said Sunday that just 286 coronavirus ‘cases’ were identified the previous day, although that was the result of the far lower testing rates on weekends.
There were just 12,654 test results returned Saturday, with a positive rate confirming infection of 2.3 percent. That compares with 30,000- 40,000 test results returned on each of the proceeding days of the week.
As of Sunday evening, there were 7,629 confirmed ‘active cases’ in the country, with the total tally since the start of the pandemic at 323,741, according to the Health Ministry. Of the active cases, 304 were in serious condition, including 133 on ventilators.
The death toll rose overnight by 11 to 2,732.