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July 20, 2020 9:20 am

Israel’s Coronavirus Committee, Cabinet Spar Over COVID-19 Restrictions

avatar by Israel Hayom / JNS.org

Israeli Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Israel, June 7, 2020. Photo: Menahem Kahana / Pool via Reuters.

JNS.org – Israel’s Knesset coronavirus committee on Sunday pushed back against the government’s proposals for additional COVID-19 restrictions, urging the Cabinet to allow public pools and beaches to remain open on weekends. The committee also called on the Cabinet to allow restaurants to remain open at 35 percent indoor seating capacity and to allow gyms to reopen, as long as they operate in accordance with public health regulations.

The committee will meet again on Monday to review the Cabinet’s response and to vote on the measures.

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch, who joined the committee meeting on Sunday, said that the proposed restrictions were designed to “prevent a shutdown.” He explained that the issue with pools, beaches and restaurants was the same, namely large gatherings of people, and promised to seek out a compromise that would allow beaches to remain open.

“We are in the middle of a mega-event … In the first wave, there were confirmed cases in 78 communities, and now there are over 200 communities reporting cases,” Kisch told the committee.

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In the weekly Cabinet meeting earlier Sunday, Netanyahu said the government was “making every effort to avoid a general lockdown.”

“We are working at the coronavirus’ pace. We do not have many choices; it is not a normal situation. This is not a situation in which we can do all these processes that take days and hope that everything will be fine. The disease is changing speed and we must change together with it,” said the prime minister.

“The steps that we are submitting here, the recommendations, mainly include the way to stop gatherings, to prevent gatherings in closed spaces of over 10 people and of over 20 in open spaces. This is not scientific. There are always exceptions. However, this is our direction— to prevent such gatherings.

“The alternative,” Netanyahu warned, would be “much harsher steps tomorrow, which we are trying to avoid.”

“It could be that we will have no choice and then we will take them, but at the moment we are trying to make quick and joint decisions. It is very important that we unite around these decisions … The important thing is that once a decision, or decisions, is or are made, we all stand behind them. This is the minimum required of any government, especially one in such a crisis,” he said.

Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen voiced harsh criticism of Netanyahu’s recent steps to deal with the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout. Farkash-Hacohen said the government had no clear plan and “pulled out something new every two weeks.”

Farkash-Hacohen also called Netanyahu’s proposal to hand out NIS 6 billion ($1.74 billion) in grants to every citizen, regardless of income level, “the worst plan.”

In response, Environmental Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel said that during the first wave of corona, “everything worked excellently.” Gamliel said that the prime minister and finance minister should be allowed to work without people “throwing a wrench in the works.”

The grants proposal is still being hammered out, with a final decision expected by Tuesday. According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday, Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Katz and Economy Minister Amir Peretz are to complete by Monday “the formulation of a model for allocating the one-time grant for additional economic support for the citizens of Israel, worth NIS 6 billion.”

“Finance Minister Katz will—no later than Tuesday—distribute a memorandum on a law to implement the plan. Upon completion of the public comments stage, the model will be submitted for Cabinet approval and Knesset legislation, with the goal being to transfer the grant to citizens as quickly as possible,” the statement continued.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz said that all decisions about the coronavirus crisis made by the National Security Council should be double-checked by another team.

One Cabinet minister said after the meeting, “that’s just the problem. One committee and then another, and another body that has to check. It becomes clumsy. As if that wasn’t enough, 21 ministers spoke during the Cabinet meeting.”

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