Israeli public health director quits, raps swift reopening of economy

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s public health director quit on Tuesday amid a spike in new coronavirus cases, saying it had reopened the economy too rapidly and had lost its way in dealing with the pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: A bartender wears a face mask as he pours a drink in a bar amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ashdod, Israel July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

Siegal Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, announced her resignation a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet reimposed a series of restrictions, including the closure of bars, gyms and event halls.

After a national lockdown in April, Israel flattened the coronavirus infection curve in May to about 20 new cases a day.

But since the reopening of schools and many businesses two months ago, the number of cases has soared, reaching more than 1,000 a day last week. The Health Ministry said it expected the number of patients on ventilators - now 32 - to reach 2,000.

In a statement on Facebook, Sadetzki said she decided to resign because her warnings about attempting to return to normal conditions too quickly had been ignored.

“It has been several weeks since Israel’s compass for handling the pandemic has lost its bearings,” she wrote.

“The achievements in dealing with the first wave (of infections) were cancelled out by the broad and swift opening of the economy” that outpaced many other countries.

With only 37% of Israelis trusting the government’s handling of the pandemic, according to a survey published on Monday by N2 News, against 59% who distrust it, her criticism of official policy could add to a sense of public unease.

At a cabinet session on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel needed to take “limited actions” now to avoid a wider lockdown later that could paralyse its economy, where unemployment is just above 20%.

In her statement, Sadetzki recommended that Israel limit gatherings to no more than 20 people and reimpose greater social distancing in work places and schools.

Israel, with a population of nine million, has reported more than 31,000 coronavirus cases and 338 dead.

Editing by Gareth Jones