Coronavirus cases soar as Israel prepares tighter measures

Director General Michael Halberthal, right, and staff in the underground parking of Rambam Health Care Campus, which has been transformed into a COVID intensive care facility, Haifa, Sept. 23, 2020. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 23 September 2020

Coronavirus cases soar as Israel prepares tighter measures

  • Israel, a country of some 9 million people, now has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus on a per capita basis
  • The government reopened the economy too quickly, and a new outbreak has quickly spread throughout the summer

JERUSALEM: Israel on Wednesday reported a new record level of daily cases of the coronavirus, shortly before government officials were to meet to discuss tightening a new nationwide lockdown.
The Health Ministry reported 6,861 new cases on Wednesday as a raging outbreak showed no signs of slowing. Israel, a country of some 9 million people, now has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus on a per capita basis, and health officials say hospitals are quickly approaching capacity.
The government last week imposed a nationwide lockdown that closed schools, shopping malls, hotels and restaurants. The coronavirus Cabinet was to meet later in the day to discuss further tightening the restrictions.
Ahead of the meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in light of the rapid spread of the virus, he would seek a “a broad general closure and significant tightening of restrictions immediately,” including the closure of large parts of the economy, his office said.
Israel won international praise for its handling of the outbreak last spring, moving quickly to seal its borders and impose a lockdown that appeared to contain the virus. But the government reopened the economy too quickly, and a new outbreak has quickly spread throughout the summer. The economy, meanwhile, has not recovered from a serious downturn caused by the first lockdown, and the new lockdown has led to a new wave of layoffs.
A new poll released Wednesday by the Israel Democracy Institute, a respected think tank, found that only 27% of Israelis trust Netanyahu to lead the country’s effort against COVID-19. That compares with 57.5% who trusted him in early April. The survey interviewed 754 adults and had a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.
The Health Ministry has instructed hospitals to delay non-essential surgeries and to open additional coronavirus wards as the number of serious cases continues to rise.
Beyond further limiting economic activity, officials have been discussing shuttering synagogues and clamping down on protests — both of which risk sparking a public backlash.
The limits would come at a time when Israeli Jews are celebrating the High Holidays and when weekly demonstrations have been held against Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The ongoing protests have bitterly divided the country, with religious leaders saying their public is being unfairly targeted by restrictions on public prayer while Netanyahu’s opponents continue to hold large public demonstration. Demonstrators say Netanyahu’s supporters are using the outbreak as an excuse to muzzle their democratic right to protest.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said restrictions would have to be tightened in the near future.
“Educational institutions will be closed, the economy will be limited to essential work, synagogues will have no indoor prayers, with arrangements for outdoor prayer, and demonstrations will be allowed without protesters traveling between cities,” he told Channel 12 TV. “Everyone will demonstrate where he wants, will pray where he wants and will stay at home. That is what is required now.”


North Yemen fighting forces thousands to flee since January

Updated 20 min 54 sec ago

North Yemen fighting forces thousands to flee since January

  • The houthis has increased its attacks on government-controlled areas in the provinces of Marib, Jouf and Sanaa since early this year
  • If the Houthis invaded Marib more than a million people would be displaced from the city: official

AL-MUKALLA: More than 19,000 families have fled their homes in northern Yemen since January due to fighting between government forces and the Houthis, according to official figures.

The Iran-backed militia has increased its attacks on government-controlled areas in the provinces of Marib, Jouf and Sanaa since early this year, leading people to desert their homes and settle in camps and makeshift houses in and around the densely populated city of Marib.

In November alone around 200 displaced families were forced to escape from their camps in Raghwan district, outside Marib city, as the Houthis increased their missile attacks and shelling to weaken government forces, the internationally recognized government’s Executive Unit for IDPs Camps said in a report released on Nov. 20.

“Some of the displaced people were forced into running away from homes and displacement camps three or four times,” Najeeb Al-Saadi, the unit’s head, told Arab News on Thursday.

The latest fighting outside Marib has pushed the number of displaced people in the city to 1.2 million since early 2015, representing almost 45 percent of the displaced people in Yemen.

Al-Saadi said 8,000 people, who had previously lived in Majazer district in northern Marib and Al-Khaneq camp in Sanaa’s Nehim after fleeing Houthi-controlled territories in 2015, were forced to seek refuge after the Houthis made major territorial gains in Marib and Sanaa.

Those families were forced again into heading to Marib’s downtown area as fighting and shelling rocked camps.

“Humanitarian interventions are inadequate compared to the big number of displaced people,” Al-Saadi added, urging the UN to pressure the warring factions to stop fighting in Marib.

If the Houthis invaded Marib, he warned, more than a million people would be displaced from the city, causing a major humanitarian crisis. “We should all work on preventing the war from getting closer to displacement camps which could trigger a huge displacement and no one would be able to help them.”

Marib has enjoyed peace and stability since the beginning of the war, attracting tens of thousands of people who have fled Houthi repression. The Houthis have increased their attacks on the city through drones, ballistic missiles and mortar rounds.

Local army commanders believe that hundreds of Houthis, including field commanders, have been killed in fighting with army troops and allied tribesmen during the last couple of months.

During his visit to Marib in March, the UN Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths called for attacks on Marib to stop and to keep the city as an oasis for peace and stability. “Marib must be insulated from conflict, remain a haven for Yemenis and continue its path to development and prosperity,” Griffiths said.

On Thursday the governor of Marib, Sultan Al-Arada, told Vice President Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmer that the army and local tribesmen had scored victories on the battlefield and foiled Houthi “terrorist” attacks on the city, the official Saba news agency reported.

In Sanaa the Houthis held funeral processions for their fighters, including senior field commanders, who were killed in fighting with government forces or by Arab coalition warplanes.

Also in Sanaa, a Houthi-controlled court on Wednesday sentenced 91 people to death and ordered their properties to be confiscated, accusing them of supporting the coalition’s military operations.

The convicted include: Nadia Al-Sakkaf, the former information minister and editor of the Sanaa-based Yemen Times, Ahmed Lamlis, the governor of Aden, Rajeh Badi, a government spokesperson, Jamel Aiz Addin, Yemen state TV director, senior military and security officers, journalists, activists and ambassadors.