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Ministers spar over decision to increase COVID-19 fines

Street shops are not opening up this week and stage three of the exit strategy may be pushed off as the rate of infection is increasing. According to outgoing coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu, the country’s reproduction rate – R – has already surpassed the point of allowing any additional relief.

The coronavirus cabinet met Monday for several hours and pushed through a decision to increase fines for breaking Health Ministry regulations on Monday.

The cabinet’s proposal increases the fine for violating the prohibition on operating a place that is open to the public or a business establishment from NIS 5,000 to NIS 10,000. It also increases the fine from NIS 5,000 to NIS 20,000 for holding an event, party, conference, ceremony, festival of performing arts show in contravention of the regulations, and for violating the prohibition on opening educational institutions.

The decision was meant to go directly to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation and then be submitted to the Knesset for final approval. However, following pressure from the ultra-Orthodox factions, it was decided to postpone the discussion on the issue.

At the meeting, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein had said that the increase in fines was essential, otherwise people who adhere to the rules will feel like they lost and then do what they want to instead.

However, there had been strong opposition from the ultra-Orthodox parties to raising fines.

MK Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) said that he would not approve such a move and he would pressure others in the Knesset to do the same. The Shas Party said it would reject the bill, too.

“It makes no sense to raise fines when the morbidity rate is decreasing,” Asher said, adding that the police also did not request this increase, “which proves that there is no justification for this.”

Following the vote, he said: “Unfortunately, the Health Ministry is cut off from reality. This is an unfortunate decision that does not contribute anything to the fight against disease. …We will oppose the proposal.”

He also said later that giving police officers the opportunity to hand out NIS 20,000 fines is “not normal,” and was rooted in populism that “has nothing to do with the fight against the disease.”

Interior Minister Arye Deri was the only minister who voted against the decision. He had previously told cabinet ministers that if such a move was made, educational institutions should at least be at the lower level of the fines.

“I ask that the cabinet remove the part about increasing fines on educational institutions,” Deri pressed at the meeting. “It is not appropriate for a Jewish State – and certainly not for the State of Israel.”

He argued that unlike at parties and events, where people eat and dance, at educational institutions people only learn.

“It does not make sense to fine educational institutions at the highest level of fines,” Deri said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied to Deri: “Unfortunately, the virus does not notice the purpose of the gathering.”

MK Moshe Gafni said he was pleased that the dialogue was postponed and that he would speak directly with the prime minister.

The cabinet had been expected to discuss when street shops and other small businesses would open, as well.

According to the latest plan, these stores are supposed to open next Sunday.

Finance Minister Israel Katz had been pushing for them to open as early as Tuesday. Edelstein opposed this demand and said the government should adhere to its exit strategy plan – especially as data is showing a rise in morbidity.

It was agreed that the discussion would be tabled until another coronavirus cabinet meeting on Thursday.

“The cabinet voted unanimously on the stages,” Edelstein said during the cabinet meeting, “so I suggest adhering to our decisions.”

He said that the country is at a crossroads: “Either we stand by the steps we set for ourselves or we will hear from the coronavirus deniers, attacking us and saying that the closure is not working.”

According to the Health Ministry, the reproduction rate (R) – how many people each sick person infects – is on the rise, and even more than one in the Arab sector. The general sector stands at 0.81 – above the desired number set by the Health Ministry. In Israel, when the Arab community is subtracted, the R stands at 0.78.

The head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, said that the decline in morbidity has slowed down with the openings that came with stage one of the exit strategy: “We need to look with concern at red areas and the increase in infection in…

Read More: Ministers spar over decision to increase COVID-19 fines

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