Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday took opposition politicians to task for calling on the public not to cooperate with Health Ministry directives regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Such calls, said Netanyahu, would lead to an increase in COVID-19 morbidity and deaths.

Speaking after a visit to the Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command headquarters in Ramla, Netanyahu called on the opposition figures to show more responsibility.

“I regret that politicians are exploiting the pandemic for political needs and are calling for non-compliance with Health Ministry directives and disobedience to the police. This is anarchy. I have just sent a letter to the heads of the opposition and I told them: Show responsibility, stop this. Do not bring the State of Israel to anarchy. Anarchy will lead to very many severe cases and, I regret, many more deaths as well,” said Netanyahu, according to a statement from his office.

The letter was sent to Opposition leader Yair Lapid, the head of Yesh Atid, as well as to Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman and the Joint Arab List’s Ayman Odeh.

Calling on Israelis to ignore the police, said Netanyahu, was not leadership.

“Leadership is making the tough and complex decisions, even very complex, but also correct,” he admonished.

“I think that we knew to make the correct decisions in the first wave, and we will also make them in the second wave. We will do everything to maintain the economy and safeguard health and lives. I am certain that we will succeed,” he added.

During a meeting of his party’s Knesset faction on Monday morning, Lieberman had urged Israelis to ignore government coronavirus directives and instead rely on “commons sense.”

Referring to the government’s decision on Sunday night to impose nightly curfews and school closures in “red” cities—those with high COVID-19 morbidity rates—starting on Monday evening, Lieberman accused Netanyahu of “sacrificing public health at the altar of coalition-preservation.”

Thus, stated Lieberman, “all decisions taken [by this government] are clearly illegal.”

The government had originally intended to impose a complete lockdown on the cities in question, most of which have majority ultra-Orthodox or Arab populations, but reportedly backed down following pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties. On Monday, even the lesser measures approved on Sunday night were delayed by a day and are now scheduled to take effect on Tuesday evening.

According to Netanyahu, the 24-hour delay was due to the fact that since Sunday night, 10 more cities had joined the “red list,” and that “each one must be heard and consulted” before the decision-making process is complete.

He stressed that avoiding lockdowns was one of the government’s goals and had been since the start of the pandemic: “In effect, we have been doing this for months and have been reaping the economic benefit.”

Physical health vs. economic health

The country’s fight against the pandemic was being waged on two fronts: health and the economy, said Netanyahu.

“Our goal was first to bring about low mortality and as few severe cases as possible,” he said, pointing to the government’s aggressive actions early on in the outbreak, which kept the “relatively low” morbidity and mortality rates compared to other countries of a similar size.

“The recent rise in those rates, he said, was due to the reopening of the economy following the nationwide lockdowns in March and April.

“While on health we were among the first to close, on the economy we were among the first, if not the first, to open—and we opened a lot,” said Netanyahu.

“Regarding the economy, the intention was to prevent the contraction of the economy as much as possible,” he said, claiming that Israel has suffered far less in this respect than Europe.

However, when the morbidity rate began to rise in recent weeks, it became clear that additional action needed to be taken on the health front, he said, pointing to a similar rise in Europe and the United States, “in places where the restrictions were eased.”

According to Israeli Health Ministry data, 3,425 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Tuesday, bringing the total number since the onset of the pandemic to 135,288. Of 27,962 active cases, 467 were categorized as “serious,” with 134 patients on ventilators and a national death toll of 1,031.

According to the ministry, 40,456 COVID-19 tests were administered over the past 24 hours, of which 8.8 percent tested positive.

The curfew measure is meant to constitute a “blocking step,” said Netanyahu.

“During the week, we will convene the corona Cabinet, and we will make more important decisions to prepare the State of Israel so that we can deal with the challenges of health and the economy. I know that these decisions entail personal and economic costs that are not simple; we will provide solutions,” he said.

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