The coronavirus situation in Israel isn’t getting better. In fact, it is getting more … confusing.
As of 7 p.m. Israel time, a night curfew went into effect for 1.3 million Israelis on Tuesday. The curfew, which will last one week, will be enforced in 40 cities and communities that are considered “red” zones, meaning they have a high rate of coronavirus infections.
The controversial plan is actually scaled back from a full lockdown for these same cities which was proposed by coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu. The watered down response came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners railed against a full lockdown on red communities, which would have affected many of their ultra-Orthodox cities.
The residents of these communities are confined to within a few hundred meters from their home between the hours of 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. Then the next morning they may leave their community freely.
But schools are closed in those areas, unless they are special education schools or if they are considered magnet schools that draw students from outside the red zone. Then they may open. Except for the 1,368 schools and kindergartens around the country that have already been closed in the last week due to a spread of COVID infections.
And, in another bizarre loophole, several reports including this one, said that the curfew only applies to residents within those cities: Outsiders may move freely in and out of the closed down communities during the curfew hours.
Nine neighborhoods in Jerusalem, all of them either Arab or ultra-Orthodox, are under curfew including the Old City.
The Times of Israel reported: “Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said that his city would comply with the rules, but still spoke out against them, claiming that Health Ministry methods for assessing infection rates in the capital’s neighborhoods were either misguided or wrong. Lion said it was unfair that tens of thousands of of residents in some neighborhoods needed to be put under curfew because of a few hundred infected people.”
The cabinet was also considering putting the resort city of Eilat under lockdown just as it was just being resuscitated by an influx of Israeli tourists in the summer months. Several hotel owners reported cancellations after the curfew idea was floated earlier this week and said this would spell the death of the southern city’s economy.
The Eilat mayor flat out called a night closure on his city the “dumbest” decision and vacationers sitting on the beach told Channel 12 they were surrounded by more people on the crowded shore than they would be at night.
“It is a ludicrous decision. This is a city that in July and August hosted more than half a million Israeli tourists,” Meir Yitzhak Halevi told Ynet. “All this time we have been a ‘green city’ with a single-digit number of verified coronavirus cases.”
In the end, only one neighborhood was subjected to curfew in Eilat.
Meanwhile, to add to the confusion, Avigdor Liberman — the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party which sits in the opposition — reportedly called on Israeli citizens to use “common sense” rather than follow government decisions that were “blatantly illegal.”
“The government has lost the public trust and it does not deserve it,” Liberman said. “The coronavirus cabinet must be abolished.”
Netanyahu warned the opposition against calling for anarchy.
“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.
All of this confusion comes days ahead of the fall holidays which begin with Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 18, accompanied by talk of a full nationwide lockdown.
Oh, and by the way, the coronavirus czar Gamzu himself was forced to enter quarantine on Tuesday after a staff member was diagnosed with COVID-19.