Israel weighing COVID-19 restrictions for Hanukkah, says Health Ministry chief

Israeli Health Ministry Director General Hezi Levy attends a press conference about COVID-19 at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on July 6, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90. 

By Assaf Golan, Jewish News Syndicate

(JNS) Israeli Health Ministry Director General Hezi Levy on Sunday called the latest COVID-19 data “worrisome.”

In an interview with Army Radio, Levy explained: “There is an increase in the reproduction rate, which is 1.16 [percent]. There is an increase in the number of verified cases every day, although their rate has remained constant.”

According to Levy, if the reproduction rate continues to climb, the government will need to restore restrictions put in place to curtail the spread of the virus.

Levy appeared to support the decision to allow students, including high-schoolers, to return to in-person learning, saying “the government made an ethical decision, and there is great importance in sending students to school, including in the higher grades.”

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However, he said, he is worried about the opening of the economy, which he said was “too fast for my liking. It can endanger us even when everyone understands the significance—financial, social and psychological—of shutting down the economy.”

“We’ll have to think about it,” he said. “There are some tools for dealing with morbidity that don’t necessarily include a lockdown [such as imposing] various restrictions … an eight-week lockdown would be very difficult for the economy and people. We need to do everything we can to limit gatherings and the increase in morbidity. It wouldn’t be a cliché to say that a lot depends on us and our behavior.”

Levy cited the crowds who packed shopping malls when they opened on Friday, in addition to the lack of adherence to guidelines on gatherings and mask-wearing as issues that would see Israel return to lockdown—something he insisted the government was not interested in imposing.

He also called the month of December a “veritable minefield,” due to expected Hanukkah and New Year’s celebrations.

“That’s now on the table for discussion—whether it would be right to restrict [gatherings] and whether we need Hanukkah to be celebrated only among individual families, rather than as mass celebrations,” he said.

As of Monday afternoon, there were 10,072 active cases of coronavirus in Israel with 268 seriously ill patients, 96 on ventilators and a national death toll of 2,864.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.