Israel’s top public health official has quit in protest at the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as authorities imposed new measures to combat a rise in infections after the country opened its economy.
Siegal Sadetzki announced her resignation with a lengthy critique of how the government had “lost its bearings”.
“The achievements in dealing with the first wave [of infections] were cancelled out by the broad and swift opening of the economy,” the leading epidemiologist wrote on Facebook.
Her announcement came hours after the Israeli parliament approved the closure of bars, clubs and gyms. The number of people allowed at restaurants, in places of worship and on public buses was also reduced.
Israel had previously been held up as an example of how to handle the pandemic, imposing a sweeping lockdown in March after an outbreak among tourists visiting the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
At its peak, residents were barred from going beyond 100 metres from their homes unless for essential journeys such as food shopping or a pharmacy visit.
While Sadetzki praised initial steps, she argued that the way schools were opened from mid-May had been a misstep. Dozens of schools were subsequently closed and thousands of pupils and teachers ordered to self-isolate as infections spread.
Cases continued to rise as Israel gradually eased its lockdown, including the reopening of shops, restaurants and beaches.
The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly chided the public for not observing regulations, such as keeping 2 metres apart from one another and wearing masks, but critics say he was too slow to act.
“The pandemic is spreading; it is as clear as the sun,” Netanyahu said on Monday.
“We must take immediate steps that will prevent us from having to take even more extreme measures later,” he added at the start of a cabinet meeting.
Officially dubbed the “corona cabinet”, Netanyahu’s alliance with his former rival Benny Gantz, serving as the alternate prime minister, was sworn in in May with a mandate to tackle the pandemic.
A poll published this week found only 37% of Israelis trusted their government’s handling of the health crisis.
Israel has registered 338 deaths from coronavirus and more than 31,000 infections, out of a population of about 9 million. The recent spike in cases – with more than 1,000 people testing positive on Monday – points to local transmission.
A ban on visitors imposed in March remains in place, while any residents who have travelled abroad must quarantine for two weeks on their return.
Coronavirus cases have also risen rapidly in the West Bank, where the borders are controlled by Israel.
The Palestinian Authority had imposed equally stringent measures at the onset of the pandemic, before easing restrictions. But a rise in cases prompted a five-day lockdown across the territory, which was extended on Friday for a further five days.
More than 4,500 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the West Bank, with at least 17 deaths among a Palestinian population of more than three million.
Authorities have so far avoided an outbreak of coronavirus in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007 and has a severely weakened health system. Palestinians returning to the enclave in recent months have been quarantined for three weeks, with one death recorded among them.