Rows between Ministers as Israel’s infection rates rise

As new cases of Covid-19 infection continued to rise this week at a daily rate of 800, internal disagreements broke out over restrictions


The Israeli government’s campaign against a second wave of coronavirus this week sparked rows between ministers over the number of people allowed to attend concerts, plus a personal campaign by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restore Shin Bet surveillance instead of a still non-existent contact-tracing apparatus.

As new cases of Covid-19 infection continued to rise this week at a daily rate of 800, and the number of seriously ill, though still low, doubled, Israelis were informed that despite promises earlier this month, summer holidays abroad would not be happening soon.

Back in May, when the number of new infections was below 20, and Israel was seen as one of the countries that had beaten coronavirus, there was talk of Israel being part of a group of countries that would allow each other’s citizens to enter without need for isolation.

The Greek tourist board was already bombarding Israeli journalists with offers to sample the pleasures of Athens and the Aegean islands. But now the European Union has included Israel in the list of countries whose citizens will not be allowed to enter the Schengen zone, when the borders are reopened next month.

Meanwhile, the team of military intelligence analysts who have been seconded to the Health Ministry have repeatedly warned that the country is losing control of the second wave. New health minister, Yuli Edelstein, implored his colleagues in the first of a series of “coronavirus cabinet” meetings on Sunday, to re-impose restrictions on gatherings.

However, the finance minister, Yisrael Katz, has been adamant Israel cannot go back to a lockdown without damaging the chances of economic recovery and, on Monday, a compromise was reached that weddings would be limited to 100 participants, from July 10 until the end of the month. This is unlikely to make any significant change, as it will be the “three weeks” period of mourning, when most Jews do not get married anyway.

Mr Netanyahu has insisted, against the recommendation of the Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, that the country should resume using the security service’s electronic surveillance capabilities to locate those who have come into contact with virus-carriers, and warn them they need to isolate.

But the Knesset security committee which needs to prepare the new law giving the Shin Bet the necessary powers, has insisted on delaying the vote by a week, to try to ensure it would be less intrusive.

The push to restore electronic surveillance came after it emerged that the Health Ministry had failed to set up an efficient contact-tracing apparatus, despite receiving millions in funding and the appointment of a senior general, seconded from the air force, to take charge of the new department.

Mr Netanyahu said this week that he had “instructed” the ministry to reduce the time needed to carry out a full epidemiological investigation on each new infection to 48 hours, instead of the current five days, at a minimum, but the ministry is still in the early stages of recruiting medical students to do the tracking and tracing during their holidays.

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