Yuli Edelstein
Yuli EdelsteinFlash90

Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) warned Sunday that Israel is at the beginning of a “second wave” of the coronavirus, and announced plans to push for new restrictions on houses of worship, public gatherings, and higher education.

Speaking in a press briefing Sunday, Edelstein said the recent spike in the daily number of confirmed coronavirus infections marked the beginning of a ‘second wave’ of the virus.

“We are in the beginning of a second wave of the virus. Our goal is to get maximum results with minimum damage,” said Edelstein.

The minister blasted critics of the Health Ministry’s handling of the crisis, calling them ‘populists’.

“There is a populist competition of who can disrespect concerns over the coronavirus the most. There are some who say we don’t need to be alarmed by the numbers. There are some who accused me of creating hysteria. It is easy to speak in populist terms in order to score points with some people. It’s easy, but also dangerous. No one has till now offered a better plan for dealing with this.”

“This isn’t just another kind of little flu virus. Being a populist can create dangers. One thing that I just can’t stand is when people say ‘Why are you creating a panic? So what if a few old people die’ – anyone who says that should imagine that it’s his or her grandmother or grandfather.”

Edelstein also said that he has tried to balance the country’s health needs with those of the economy, but added that if the public fails to adhere to health regulations, the country could be headed for a second mass lockdown.

“From day one I decided not to be a rubber stamp, and to make every decision carefully, taking into consideration both the health concerns and the needs of the economy. I worked with the relevant ministers to open event halls, cultural events, and public transportation. But I always emphasized that if the public doesn’t adhere to the rules, we’re going to end up in another lockdown.”

“Unfortunately, the public did not pay enough attention. I’ve pushed for the significant increase in enforcement. I consider anyone who doesn’t obey the rules to be harming not only himself but also those around him. And he is liable to hurt the whole economy as well.”

The minister also announced that he had proposed to the Coronavirus Cabinet a series of new restrictions, including limitations on public gatherings, prayer groups in synagogues, and colleges, with tests to be administered online.

In addition, the plan would increase the number of public sector employees who will work from home, and encourage the private sector to follow suit.

Last week, former Israeli Health Ministry Director-General and one-time Labor MK Yoram Lass pushed back on claims Israel is facing a second wave of the coronavirus, claimng that the polymerase chain reaction tests used to check for the coronavirus fail to distinguish between active cases of the coronavirus and cases which are no longer active.

Others have pushed back against calls for new restrictions, citing the low number of serious cases (39) and the number of patients on respirators (22).

On Sunday, Economy and Industry Minister Amir Peretz said the “public isn’t buying the forecasts” predicting a massive wave of new hospitalizations, and rejected “restricting events”.

"We're in a growing crisis of confidence, so it's impossible to pay the economic price of further closures and restricting events. The public isn't buying the forecasts, and right now the status of the infected is rising when the severely ill and patients on ventilator are still low.

"The system is coping particularly well at this stage, so there's no reason to impose closures. In the event that the economic downturn begins to overshadow everything, the closure solution is more difficult than the disease itself and more dangerous in the long run for many more people," he said.

Over the past three weeks, the number of daily rate of infections – that is, the number of coronavirus cases confirmed each day – rose from 170 on June 7th, to over 500 on Thursday, before falling back to just under 400.

That’s raised the number of known active cases of the coronavirus to 6,251. Of those, 213 patients are currently hospitalized. Thirty-nine of the patients are in serious condition, with 58 in moderate condition. Twenty-two patients are currently on respirators.