(September 11, 2020 / Israel Hayom) A nationwide lockdown in Israel seems inevitable with a deciding cabinet vote scheduled for next week as the number of new coronavirus cases hit a new 24-hour record from Thursday to Friday, with more than 4,038 people testing positive, the Health Ministry reported Friday.
The rate of positive tests for the same period hit 8.8 percent.
As of Friday, the number of Israelis identified as having contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic stood at 146,542, with 33,920 active or symptomatic patients.
On Friday morning, 982 coronavirus patients were hospitalized, including 489 who were listed in serious condition, of whom 134 were on ventilators. Another 180 hospitalized patients were listed in moderate condition.
On Thursday, the special ministerial forum on the COVID-19 pandemic approved Coronavirus Project Coordinator Ronni Gamzu’s proposal to reimpose a nationwide lockdown.
The decision now moves to the cabinet and then to the Knesset for final approval, but is expected to be fast-tracked by early next week with the lockdown taking effect by next Friday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced a national furor over his recent handling of the pandemic. Netanyahu has said that a lockdown remained an option. But imposing one on all Israelis after walking back the restrictions on haredi communities after pressure from haredi local authority leaders could be viewed as political surrender.
“Netanyahu has a commendable record of folding magnificently, but this time it concerned life and death,” wrote political commentator Yossi Verter in Haaretz. “Because of petty politics, Israel may experience disproportionate collective punishment.”
‘Restaurateurs have to protect their livelihoods’
The lockdown will come at a heavy economic cost, especially to businesses and sectors that were just beginning to get back on their feet from the previous lockdown of March-April, particularly retail, tourism and hospitality.
“We don’t know what to do,” marketing director of Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center shopping mall Alex Kaplan told Israel Hayom on Thursday.
“Again, they didn’t share the decision with us or how they will compensate malls for the upcoming lockdown,” said Kaplan. “We expect the government to announce a system of compensation for employers and workers.”
“This is a fatal blow to businesses that are just starting to recover and will set them back by six months. The biggest concern is the small businesses, which once again won’t have any safety net, will collapse and take a long time to recover,” he said.
“This is a fatal blow to businesses that are just starting to recover and will set them back by six months.”
Kaplan noted that August had been a “very good month” and “put a smile back on business owners’ faces and bank accounts.”
The next peak, he said, was “supposed to be the holidays. The damage we are expecting is major, given the fact that following [the lockdown] there are no vacations or special events coming up.”
Supermarkets, which have stocked up ahead of Rosh Hashanah, expect to continue operating during any lockdown or restrictions that will be put in place, and industry experts said that no shortages were expected.
While Israelis will be able to keep their refrigerators full, the option of meals out will be taken off the table. Restaurants and cafes were among the first to close in the last general lockdown, and among the last businesses to reopen in a sector that is by its nature volatile.
Owner of the Café Café chain Ronen Nimni said “when corona burst into our lives, the food and beverage sector was one of the first to suffer the worst of the blow to the economy. A lot of businesses didn’t make it through and those who did, are still fighting. The feeling among restaurant owners is that finally, a month has passed without warnings or decisions, and now it looks like there’s going to be another lockdown—one that will be hard to survive.”
Tomer Mor, director-general of the Misadanim Hazakim Beyachad (Restaurateurs Strong Together) union said Thursday, “Restaurateurs have to protect their livelihoods … and won’t agree to close their businesses. If the government is leaning towards a lockdown, it has to compensate independent restaurant business owners before declaring it and present them with an exit scenario.”
Mor warned that if the government did not do so, it would encounter “strong resistance” by restaurateurs and independent business owners “fighting for their lives.”
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