Gamzu: All gatherings should be barred – Uman and Balfour alike

“Too much politics” was the burden of the complaint by Israel’s coronavirus director Prof. Ronni Gamzu’s in a wide-ranging radio interview on Thursday, Aug. 27. He stressed that all gatherings were a major source of infection. The virus does not differentiate between the annual Breslau Hassidim celebration at the tomb of Rabbi Nahman in Uman, Ukraine, and the regular mass anti-Netanyahu demonstrations outside his Jerusalem residence on Balfour St. But, he said, it was up to the authorities to act on his advice, implying that this was not happening and politics was getting in the way..

On the coming Sunday, the coronavirus cabinet will again be faced with a decision that the ministers shirked in three previous sessions: whether to adopt the Gamzu plan for classifying regions and differentiating restrictions according to the density of local infection. An estimated 30 “red” hotbeds will be most affected, the “yellow” zones less and the rest of the country will enjoy the freedoms of a “green” region.

At this session, the ministers must also take hard decisions for the approaching High Festivals in the second half of September. Asked whether a full lockdown was on his agenda for the festival season, the coronavirus director replied that he had made every effort to avoid a full-scale shutdown in his five weeks on the job, but bringing the figures down depended heavily on expeditious action by the authorities, including local councils, and public discipline with regard to masks and social distancing. The same rules applied to the reopening of the school year next Tuesday. But, said Gamzu, full lockdown was still not off the table.

Thursday saw a drop in new covid-19 causes – another 1,563 additions compared with 1,943 on Wednesday. The total stands now at 108,403, with 21,162 active cases, 404 seriously ill (down from 430 in 24 hours). But the number of dead rose from 867 to 875.

The ultra-Orthodox ministers are gunning for Prof. Gamzu over his advice to restrict the size of regular congregations in synagogues and his intervention in the Uman event. On Wednesday, PM Binyamin Netanyahu gave his full backing to the coronavirus director against demands to fire him.

Gamzu was also widely criticized for sending a personal letter to the Ukraine president asking him to bar entry to tens of thousands of Hassidim for their annual pilgrimage to Uman, warning that this gathering was potentially the source of spiking contagion among the pilgrims and their local hosts alike. Kiev accepted Gamzu’s advice and took it a step further with a decision on Wednesday to ban all gatherings in the country forthwith. Gamzu admitted he erred in not referring his approach to the prime minister, but he said, due to the pressures of the pandemic, professional health specialists the world over are being forced to make their voices heard.

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