Israel Struggles amid Coronavirus Disputes

Israel’s nurses went on strike today after the failure of last-minute talks. They are concerned about staff shortages during the coronavirus pandemic, which are making it impossible to continue their work.

The strike means that all non-urgent surgery will be postponed, and outpatient clinics will only operate on an emergency basis. Coronavirus and oncology wards will not be affected by the strike.

Nurses at Galilee Medical Center in NahariyaNurses at the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya (photo: Avihu Shapira)

The National Association of Nurses has warned for months that the limited number of staff has left them vulnerable. They now say that more than 1,000 staff are in quarantine, aggravating the shortage. The Association wants funding for 1,500 extra nurses.

Association chairperson, Ilana Cohen, told Israeli media:

“It should be understood that the shortage of nurses did not start with the coronavirus.”

She went on to say:

“The Treasury is simply not addressing our demands. All the same, nurses will continue to
work in coronavirus departments according to a regular schedule, despite the strike.”

In addition to that dispute with the nurses, the Israeli Government is in the middle of a dispute with restaurant owners. An initial closure notice issued early on Friday morning – to take effect from 5 pm that day – was heavily criticised because of the short notice.

Many restaurant owners vowed to stay open having invested much money in stocks for weekend customers. That pressure prompted Benjamin Netanyahu to postpone the planned closure until Tuesday morning. But some restaurant owners are threatening to keep their businesses open, despite government orders to close. They argue that recent statistics indicate most infections seem to be picked-up at home and not in restaurants.

And while the Israeli government faces these external disputes, there are also significant arguments taking place within its ranks.

Likud Member of the Knesset Yifat Shasha-Biton heads the Coronavirus Committee. And last week she rebelled against party policy in refusing to close pools and gyms – again saying that the latest data didn’t support such a change.

Threatened with being thrown out of the party, she defended her decision saying:

“It’s okay to disagree and argue. It’s not clear that a full lockdown is the right move.
There is a lot we can do before we decree a lockdown on citizens.
The question is not if we are remaining open, but rather how and under what conditions.”

On Monday afternoon, after another meeting of the Knesset Coronavirus Committee, it was announced that pools and restaurants will not be closed just yet, and that schools and camps will remain open at least until Thursday.

An important factor that almost certainly influenced this decision was a drop in the number of daily coronavirus infections. 951 people were diagnosed on Sunday – an infection rate of 5%, down from 7% on Saturday.