Gov’t expected to vote today to extend coronavirus lockdown by a week

Number of serious patients remains high at 1,173 • 2.9 million Israelis have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine

Israeli police reinforce regulations outside on Jaffa street on January 06, 2021, during the 3rd lockdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israeli police reinforce regulations outside on Jaffa street on January 06, 2021, during the 3rd lockdown due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
The government is scheduled to convene on Sunday and will likely extend Israel’s lockdown by another week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to support the extension, which is being recommended by the Health Ministry. The lockdown is slated to expire on Sunday night at midnight unless it is extended.
The Health Ministry is also expected to push to keep Ben-Gurion Airport closed for at least another two weeks, although it remains unclear whether legislation would be required in order to permit such a move.
The government meeting can take place after Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin announced Friday morning that the legislature will convene for a rare Sunday session to pass a bill that will raise fines on those who break coronavirus regulations.
The saga over the fines bill began earlier last week, while the country is racing between getting as many people vaccinated as possible and the rapid spread of coronavirus infection.
The bill, if passed, would double most fines and enable police officers to shut down institutions that are operating against the rules.
Blue and White stressed that it would not agree to convene the government and extend the lockdown, despite begging by health experts, who said opening up now would put lives at even greater risk.
“Either everyone will adhere to the closure or there will be no closure,” the party tweeted on Thursday. “Blue and White will not give up on the fact that all educational institutions throughout the country will be closed. Unlike [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, we have a responsibility. We will not allow a promiscuous policy for political reasons that costs us in human lives.
“The law in Bnei Brak will be the same as the law in Herzliya,” the party said.
The government was meant to convene Thursday but pushed off the meeting when the Knesset failed to pass the fines bill.
The decision to convene comes against the backdrop of an infection rate that has not begun to decline as much as health officials expected, despite the closure.
On Saturday night, the Health Ministry reported that there were 6,435 people diagnosed with coronavirus on Friday, accounting for 9% of the 74,102 people screened.
The number of serious patients hit 1,174, including 321 people who were intubated.
There were 72,166 people with the virus. The city with the most is Jerusalem, where as of Saturday night there were 13,013 cases. The areas with the highest rate of infection are largely haredi (ultra-Orthodox): Bnei Brak has 4,438 active cases, Modi’in Illit 2,731 and Beit Shemesh 2,353.
More than 50 people died over the weekend, bringing the death toll to 4,738. 
“We are in the most difficult situation since the outbreak of the pandemic,” Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer’s Prof. Zeev Feldman said Friday morning. “Ending the lockdown before lowering the number of serious cases is irresponsible. It’s outcome is known in advance: the death of thousands.”
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein expressed similar sentiments Friday morning: “Something dangerous could happen here on Sunday at midnight: Because of political games, the lockdown will end [and] restrictions will be lifted altogether,” Edelstein said. “The State of Israel will become an uncontrollable coronavirus incubator.”
Sheba Medical Center announced Friday that it would expand its coronavirus maternity ward to accommodate the growing number of pregnant women who are contracting the virus. The expanded ward will be available for women from across the country.
“We are witnessing an increase in infection among women in the third trimester, and assume there is a link between the spread of the British variant and this increase,” said Prof. Galia Rahav, director of the hospital’s infectious disease unit.
Prof. Eyal Sivan, director of the Josef Buchmann Gynecology and Maternity Center at Sheba, said: “We identified the upward trend in women’s morbidity as early as a few weeks ago and prepared in advance for the possibility of absorbing large numbers of women... We believe that early supervision will prevent complications later on.”
Hadassah-University Medical Center recently opened a coronavirus pediatric intensive care unit for children with serious cases of COVID-19. On Saturday night, the hospital said that a two-month-old baby being treated in the unit died of COVID-19. The child was intubated and anesthetized for about three weeks. He suffered from underlying medical conditions.
Health officials have said that the lockdown is working, just slower than expected.
“The lockdown is working but at a slow and disappointing rate,” Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told KAN News over the weekend.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said on Meet the Press that he expects that this upcoming week will be the last week of the lockdown. However, he added that opening up would not mean resuming full activity.
Channel 12 revealed that the ministry is weighing recommending that preschools and maybe some elementary school classrooms will reopen in the first stage, as well as classes for students in 11th and 12th grades. However, the report said that students in orange and red cities would need to be tested to go to school.
On the other hand, Israel is still leading the world in administering the coronavirus vaccine.
To date, Israel has given out more than 4.6 million doses of the vaccine. Some 2.97 million people have had at least their first jab and, of those, about 1.7 million have also received their second, some 0.9 million of whom have received their vaccination certificates.