By David Saffer
Israel’s coronavirus cabinet has dropped proposals for a night-time curfew throughout Chanukah in a bid to stop large gatherings causing a Covid-19 spike.
The decision less than 24 hours before the start of the festival caused heated political debate all week not only on the Chanukah curfew but also the festive period for Christian communities.
The cabinet is however considering Health Ministry recommendations to ban households socialising at night during Chanukah, and even more contentiously, shops closing after 5.30pm.
At the time of going to press it is believed Blue & White MKs will oppose businesses closing.
Curfew proposals were shelved over police manpower issues, legal obstacles and a clarity if the action would have a positive impact on Covid cases.
In the midst of the debate, 240 shopping centres, outdoor markets and museums across Israel reopened yesterday after three months. Strict social distancing, mask-wearing and computer systems to monitor customers numbers will be in place until at least December 23.
Centres opened after a two-week pilot of 15 venues across the country operating under strict measures, which was hailed a success.
The possibility of early closing received short shrift from opposing MKs.
Officials are still evaluating ways to restrict social gatherings during Chanukah beginning tonight.
The political and media storm centred on experts calling into question the logic of a curfew.
Public Health chief Dr. Sharon Elrai-Price and coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash were uncertain of the overall effect.
“The numbers are not currently catastrophic, so tightening restrictions can only bring us down to 1,000 patients a day,” Elrai-Price reportedly noted earlier this week.
Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science backed the viewpoint in terms of fatalities.
“In the best-case scenario, (the curfew) will reduce the R number by 0.05,” he reportedly said. “It will primarily erode the public trust that has already been damaged. According to phone triangulation, less than 10% of all contacts happen at night.”
“Instead of a nightly curfew, we must crack down on the social contact, illicit weddings and Chanukah events that will be shifted from the nigh-time to earlier in the day and the people who do not abide by the guidelines and who we have been unable to monitor for a long while,” Segal added. “The decision-makers also know (that the curfew) will not work, they have been told as such. I have not seen a single analysis that claims a nigh-time curfew will be highly effective.”
Acting Israel Police Commissioner Motti Cohen warned police could not enforce a night curfew.
“If I look at the effectiveness of a night-time closure versus the expected result, my recommendation is not to impose such a closure,” Cohen reportedly confirmed.
Health Ministry’s deputy director Prof. Itamar Grotto is set to leave the post and dismissed the impact of a curfew.
“That night-time lockdown is a tool that is not suitable for use in the face of the problems presented by the holiday of Chaunkah,” he reportedly said.
“Lighting (Chanukah) candles is an important tradition, but stopping gatherings with a night-time curfew is like using a cannon to hit a fly,” Grotto added.
The outgoing deputy director confirmed that police would stop illegal, mass candle lighting ceremonies and called on families to celebrate at home.
Earlier in the week, the coronavirus cabinet backed a curfew.
“We have seen that during the holidays, gatherings tend to cause a jump in morbidity,” Prof. Arnon Afek noted. “Previously we enacted a closure that was very effective but the damage it caused was great. This time the government is trying to see if a night-time closure will prevent the same gatherings. We do not know if it will help or not. No one knows, but we are trying.”
Afek added, “Maintaining public health is critical,” he said.
Regarding potential vaccinations, Afek reportedly said they were safer than doing nothing at all.
“We do not know what the long-term effects (of the vaccination) will be, but I am sure the Western regulatory system has done all it can to produce a safe vaccine for us all,” he said.
“There is one thing that is far, far worse than the vaccine and that is the coronavirus. We trust the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration]), the British authorities and the authorities in Israel and believe that they will continue to operate with the same transparency as they have so far.”
Latest Health Ministry data reported 1,837 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily rise since mid-October. The death toll is 2,924. Of 13,949 patients battling the disease, 315 are in serious condition, 107 are connected to ventilators