Israel Starts to Ease Lockdown

Israel identified another 1,608 COVID-19 infections on Thursday, representing 4.5 percent of more than 37,000 tests conducted over the previous 24 hours. With the target levels set at less than 2,000 cases per day and 5 percent positive tests, that led the government to approve the easing of restrictions.

From Sunday 18th October, Israelis will no longer have to stay within 1 kilometre of their home for non-essential travel. Non-essential businesses with no direct customer contact will be allowed to reopen and restaurants will be able to sell takeaway food.

But full restrictions will continue for some areas with the highest death rates, which are designated as ‘red zones.’

In a statement on Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu emphasised that restrictions will be eased gradually, responsibly, carefully and in a controlled manner, saying:

“We want to converge on the indicators that the Health Ministry and experts have suggested
to us so that we can begin to gradually ease the current conditions of the lockdown. 
We need to do this so that we do not have an additional lockdown in two or three weeks.”

But health care professionals were said to be dismayed that Israel’s ‘coronavirus cabinet’ did not discuss the issue of localised restrictions. They believe targeted measures for different communities are one of the most effective ways of fighting the virus.

Ronit Calderon-Margalit, an epidemiologist and adviser to Israel’s coronavirus czar, said on Thursday:

“If we fail to implement localised lockdowns at this, the first stage of reopening, 
we’ll have a lack of options in the future.”

Health researchers are strongly in favour of localised lockdowns, but they have become a difficult political issue because most of the red zones are ultra-Orthodox areas. Leaders of those towns and cities say local measures make the community feel targeted – a situation with some similarities to that of Manchester and other northern cities in the UK currently.

Ministers are meeting this afternoon to determine how best to handle these ‘red zones.’ There are now only six of them: Beit Illit, Bnei Brak, Elad, Modi`in Illit, Rehasim and four Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

A statement from Israel’s Coronavirus Commissioner issued this morning said:

“In light of the declining trend in morbidity data in the deep red cities, Prof. Gamzu - after
consultation with professionals - decided to remove the cities of Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Malachi,
as well as a number of Jerusalem neighbourhoods, from the list.”

There is significant tension around this issue, as the ultra-Orthodox communities have frequently ignored the government’s restrictions.