Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly “furious” with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for apparently blocking a series of new restrictions meant to halt the virus surge during a meeting of top officials on Tuesday.
Gantz and Blue and White were “undermining the necessary steps to slow down the virus and save lives,” an unnamed senior Likud official quoted Netanyahu as saying, according to multiple Hebrew media reports late Tuesday. The official said Netanayhu was “furious.”
Netanyahu and several top ministers met with medical experts and Health Ministry officials earlier to discuss further limiting gatherings from 20 down to 10 people, as well as additional steps, the reports said.
But the hours-long meeting ended without any decision made on further steps.
Reports indicated that representatives from the National Security Council who participated in the meeting recommended that restaurants be shuttered, save for delivery services, and that beaches, synagogues and yeshivas be closed as well.
Gantz objected to the recommendations, saying that it would be best to wait another week to see the effects of the latest round of restrictions before moving forward with additional measures.
Netanyahu and Likud railed against Gantz, who is also defense minister.
“This irresponsibility of Blue and White will definitely move us to a full lockdown and an unnecessary high economic price,” the senior Likud official said.
“Gantz today opposed every measure to stop the spread of corona that could have prevented us from going to a general closure.”
The official called on Gantz to “stop playing political games with corona that endanger the lives of Israeli citizens.”
“Because the unity government coalition agreement calls for decisions to be agreed by both Blue and White and Likud, they are torpedoing every decision that does not match their populist world view,” the official said.
Blue and White responded by accusing Netanyahu of playing politics.
“Instead of giving up responsibility for managing the corona crisis, Netanyahu should let the IDF win and let the Defense Ministry to oversee the efforts in the field,” a senior Blue and White official said. “This is not the time for politics, or any battle that does not involve rehabilitating the economy, the health (system) and society.”
During the meeting Health Minister Yuli Edelstein repeated his warning that if the current rend of rising infections continues, there will be no choice but to impose a full lockdown, Channel 12 news said.
Channel 13 reported that a decision on whether to seek a new lockdown could be made over the weekend.
Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay recommended that instead of enforcing a lockdown during the entire week, the government should consider only enacting a closure in the evenings and on weekends to limit the economic ramifications as much as possible.
Netanyahu reportedly ordered this to be examined.
Among those taking part in the gathering were Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, who served as director-general of the Health Ministry until mid-June. Bar Siman-Tov played a leading role in Israel’s initial response to the pandemic and oversaw many of the strict restrictions put in place to contain the virus. He was also seen to be in lockstep with Netanyahu on how the government should respond to the pandemic.
News of Bar Siman-Tov’s participation in the meeting led to speculation among some analysts of Netanyahu lacking confidence in the new Health Ministry director Chezy Levy. But sources close to Simon-Tov said he had complete faith in the current authorities, and had no intention of returning to an active role. He had merely been called in to offer advice and did so, they said.
Separately Tuesday, Gantz directed the IDF Home Front Command to prepare to operate hotels for coronavirus patients and those unable to quarantine at home through 2021, saying it appeared unlikely that the COVID-19 pandemic will be over by then.
“The working premise needs to be activity until the end of 2021,” Gantz said in a video call with commanders in charge of the hotels. “The entire work year, next year, will also revolve around the crisis. Unfortunately it’s hard for me to see this ending before then.”
Maj. Gen. Uri Gordon, the head of Home Front Command, said the greatest challenge facing his unit is getting people to come to the hotels, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.
“At the end of the day, you’re uprooting a person from his home for a relatively long period, about a month, and this leads to many concerns and objections from the sick and the quarantined,” he said. “However, very large efforts are being made and the machine is already well-oiled.”
He said that over 400 people check into the hotels each day.
Gantz’s fellow minister in the Defense Ministry, Michael Biton, was forced to enter quarantine on Tuesday after exposure to a confirmed coronavirus carrier. He will remain in isolation until next Thursday.
Earlier Tuesday, the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center reported that 1,688 coronavirus infections were diagnosed a day earlier, the highest number seen in any 24-hour period.
The figures showed a total of 179 serious cases, and 364 total deaths. The statistics appeared to contradict a Health Ministry update from 10:30 p.m. Monday night, which counted 365 dead and 183 serious cases.
A Tuesday morning update by the Health Ministry reported that there had been 1,681 cases on Monday, and raised the death toll to 368.
The discrepancies could not be immediately explained.
Figures released by the Health Ministry Tuesday morning showed that 42,235 cases had been confirmed in the country since the start of the pandemic, including 21,393 active cases.
The new figures from Monday marked the highest confirmed case tally yet recorded in any 24-hour period, as the spread of the virus continued to ratchet up.