Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting at the White House – Mark Wilson
Israel’s prime minister has admitted flaws in his response to the coronavirus crisis, as the rate of daily infections reached a new record of 8,300 and a leading scientist warned two more lockdowns may be required.
Benjamin Netanyahu said he regretted the swift decision to reopen schools and event halls earlier this year, but then accused the media of spreading complacency about the virus.
“Did we make mistakes in the past? Of course,” Mr Netanyahu said in a televised statement. “The opening of event halls was too fast [and] maybe the opening of the whole school system.”
He also attacked members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, for blocking some of the restrictions he had tried to impose on Israel before resorting to a three-week lockdown.
A record 8,315 coronavirus cases were registered on Friday as the country entered its second week of lockdown, coinciding with the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.
The death toll rose to 1,446 over the weekend and 200 patients have been placed on ventilators.
In total, Israel has seen 231,000 cases of coronavirus since the pandemic began, of which the majority have recovered.
It came as a British-Israeli epidemiologist warned that the outbreak was becoming so severe that more lockdowns could be needed in future.
A man runs on a car-free highway, during the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, in Tel Aviv – AP
“It’s a question of whether people will realise it’s serious and play by the rules. Because if not, there could be a third and a fourth lockdown,” Michael Edelstein, a former Public Health England consultant who now holds a professorship at Bar Ilan University in Galilee, told the Times of Israel.
“This could go on in cycles until a vaccine becomes available,” he added. “There’s no doubt Israel has one of the highest rates of new infection in the world and it’s a real concern.”
Israel’s second lockdown, which is due to end in two weeks but may be extended, has led to the closure of schools, offices and most shops, excluding supermarkets and pharmacies.
As during the first lockdown, Israelis are not allowed to venture from home beyond a one kilometre radius except for buying essential supplies.
Yom Kippur prayer gatherings have been restricted, with Israelis told they cannot gather in groups larger than 20, and they can only meet near their homes.
However, despite the lockdown, thousands attended a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership outside his official residence on Saturday night.