Israel must prepare for a second, “more lethal”, wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the stark warning during a Likud Party meeting on Monday.
To date there have been 279 fatalities in data released on Tuesday.
“We must prepare for a second wave of the coronavirus, which is expected to be much more lethal,” Netanyahu said.
Whilst hailing “Israel’s great success” in dealing with Covid-19, which had seen businesses restart and lockdown measurers recede, a second wave was expected.
“Our number of patients is marginal, a few at a time at the moment,” Netanyahu said.
“This is a truly remarkable result. We are in good shape, but we need to understand that it might be temporary because the virus is still here.”
Over half of Israelis (54.5%) accept Netanyahu’s warning of a “second wave” according to an Israel Democracy Institute survey.
The public perception though of Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis has changed.
“At the mid-point of the coronavirus, most Israelis expressed trust in Netanyahu,” said Dr. Or Anabi, IDI’s Guttman Center. “In the last month, you can see a pretty steep decline in this trust.”
He added, “We see people going to the beach and restaurants have reopened. It feels like we can go on with our lives, but no. There are still large amounts of Israelis afraid.
“In people’s minds the coronavirus is still here.”
Netanyahu, meantime, welcomed the new coalition as it would continue the ongoing battle with Covid-19.
“Many did not believe we would be here as part of a unity government, but I believed it was necessary to join forces in order to the face the great challenges facing the state,” he said.
“I think we’re capable of meeting them because we’re a big faction and a broad government.
“We must return the jobs that have been lost due to the coronavirus crisis. It’s a huge task.”
Netanyahu added, “I’ve been talking to the self-employed and I hear their pain.
“People have lost their livelihoods and do not know if they will have one in the future. We are committed to doing everything to help them.”
Netanyahu vowed to use a NIS 6 billion budget to re-hire workers released during the pandemic.
An easing of measures has seen Israel’s buses resume services. Egged bus company confirmed bus routes, including intercity ones would be back.
Intercity buses are able to carry a maximum of 46 passengers, city buses 49 passengers and articulated buses 75 passengers.
Buses will not stop at train stations until June 8 when rail services resume. Night buses are not operating yet, school buses will return in line with specific schools.
Commercial flights, meanwhile, are set to resume mid-July.
Ben Gurion Airport Managing Director Shmuel Zakai confirmed the news but flights are restricted with no vaccine in place.
“Social distancing regulations at airports won’t allow us to increase passenger capacity,” he explained.
“If we keep up at this pace, we’ll see a few dozen flights departing from Ben-Gurion Airport starting mid-July and not earlier. As long as there is no vaccine for coronavirus and the disease keeps moving across countries there will be no significant change.”
Israel Airports Authority announced new procedures including temperature checks on arrival and mandatory face masks. Hand sanitisers will be available around the airport, waiting areas will ensure safe distancing.
Israel will allow visitors from nations with low coronavirus infection rates.
A “green country” model allows travel without a 14-day self-isolation period for arrivals.
The list currently includes Greece, Cyprus, Seychelles, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Iceland.
In related news, Israel’s government has voted to limit Shin Bet security service involvement in locating coronavirus carriers using cell phones. Tracking will be reviewed if a new outbreak occurs.
Everyday life is returning, though restaurant and hotel owners are concerned.
Dan Hotels will reopen in Eilat and Caesarea, joining Dan Panorama in Tel Aviv, which was a facility to treat coronavirus patients with minor symptoms.
Other hotels will reopen during the summer but it is dependent on tourism.
“Opening hotels based on foreign tourism, like those in Jerusalem, is not profitable because there are no flights,” explained Dan Hotels CEO Ronen Nissenbaum.
“There are no tourists coming and the mandatory two-week isolation from overseas arrivals is still in place, so we won’t open until this changes.”
Nissenbaum estimates the industry will take up to three years to hit capacity again.
Israel Hotel Association President Amir Hayek said reopening of hotels is a good sign, but only a fraction of hotels will resume business this month.
Hayek hopes a return of tourists will kickstart the industry.
“Local tourism isn’t extensive enough to allow all hotels to open,” said Hayek.
“We’ve reached a point where even when they allow hotels to reopen, hoteliers need to ask themselves whether it’s worth it. Everyone is tight on money right now, all hotels, small and big.”
Head of the restauranteur union, Shai Berman, estimates 4,500 of the country’s 14,000 businesses will close down this year.
“Our concern is what will happen in two or three weeks when the initial excitement fades,” he said. “What kind of reality are we returning to? Tourism is declining and perhaps the Israeli public will have less money to spend. We will really feel it financially a month after reopening.”
Restaurants will place hand sanitisers at an entrance and check temperatures of customers before entering. Tables must be 1.5-2 meters apart.
Customers have to make reservations and sign a health declaration.
Kitchen must wear masks. Dishes are washed at a temperature higher than 72 degrees.
Venues up to 100 customers can reach 100% occupancy, larger venues can only reach a maximum of 85% occupancy. Customers must sit at least a meter apart outdoors.
The Health Ministry announced train services will resume full activity next month.
They were due to return earlier this month without a limit on passengers in a carriage. But Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov overruled the decision.
Minibuses and shared taxis can take passengers up to 75% capacity. Regular taxis can have two passengers in the back seat.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev commented, “I call on the public to help us, take self-responsibility and act according to Health Ministry guidelines.”
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein added, “We’ve started opening the economy for the sake of the public and businesses, but it all depends on each and every one of us. Without strict adherence to the guidelines, coronavirus could return, and with it, the closure of the economy.”
Israelis must wear face masks outside. Over 4,200 fines were administered for those who did not follow the guideline, though the measure was lifted during a heatwave.
Ministry officials do not plan to lift the regulation for some time