Government considers stricter lockdown as 7,061 diagnosed with COVID-19

12,514 Israeli students tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
The government will decide today whether to tighten the lockdown, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced during Monday’s cabinet meeting.
“The millions of vaccines that we brought to Israel have set us on track to be first to finish with the coronavirus. I am doing everything possible to continue the fight and vaccinate the public quickly,” Netanyahu said. “Thanks to the millions of vaccines and a short and tight closure, we will save many lives and be the first in the world to open up the economy.”
“This is our last fight against the pandemic,” Netanyahu promised.
Some 7,061 people were verified to have tested positive for coronavirus on Monday, according to the Health Ministry, the highest percentage of positive tests since October. 
This number came from a total of 94,000 tests administered, yielding a positive rate of 7.6% among those tested, 
There are currently 772 coronavirus patients in severe condition, while the death toll in Israel stands at 3,455.
Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz pushed to vaccinate teachers as soon as possible, “to prevent the educational system from collapsing.”
“If we must, we should try to find a way to add more school days later on [in the year] to supplement what has been lost for the students,” he added.
However,  Yetsigim, a teachers union, called on Gantz to retract his statement, arguing that “If the Alternate Prime Minister was connected to reality instead of elections, he would see that the only addition that needs to be made is to the teachers, who risk their lives every day for the students of Israel.”
Some 12,514 Israeli students tested positive for the virus on Monday, out of 49,643 cases in the general population, currently at a 6.6% positivity rate.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said Monday night that he was pushing for a closure of the education system, telling Channel 12: “The pupils infect each other and their families.”
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet on Tuesday to weigh options amid the surging virus outbreak alongside the country’s rapid vaccination campaign, specifically regarding the fate of schools.
After the meeting ended, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warned, “If we don’t take the harshest steps possible, by March or April we will be like Italy was in the first month of the pandemic, ” KAN reported.
Edelstein said on Monday that the coronavirus crisis is more acute than it was in September, before the second lockdown, and that he will push for a total lockdown, including the closure of schools.
Director-General of the Health Ministry Chezy Levy said in an interview with Channel 12 on Monday night, that he did not know for sure when the next shipment of the Pfizer vaccines would arrive in Israel, but that he thought that it would not be until February.
Amid fears that the current supply of vaccines in the country might not be enough to enable Israel to continue vaccinating at the current pace, there were raised eyebrows over the fact that Meyer Habib, a French-Israeli politician who is a member of the French National Assembly, was vaccinated here on December 31, although at 59 he is just below the cutoff age for being in a high-risk group.  He tweeted a picture of himself being vaccinated at a center run by the Clalit health fund.
Dr. Orly Greenfeld, the medical director of the national vaccine program of the Health Ministry, said at a press briefing Monday afternoon that the ministry was pushing for a “much faster and stricter lockdown” for two weeks to bring down infections to under one thousand per day, and the rate of infection to less than one.
“We are a bit far from that,” she said, answering a question about an exit strategy from the current lockdown, which many in the Health Ministry feel is too lax since it allows many people to work and children to go to school.
Asked whether the Health Ministry was considering sanctions on health funds that have been vaccinating large numbers of people who are not in the risk groups at the end of the day, when all the vaccines in the batch that have been opened must be used, she said there was no such plan.
“We have given very clear guidelines that the first preference is to those in the highest-risk group, over 60, and then to those who are under 60 and are chronically ill, and also to teaching staff,” she said. She confirmed that some police officers and soldiers have received vaccinations before teaching staff because “they cannot do their jobs remotely.”
Meanwhile, the government approved on Monday evening a new economic plan to help the self-employed and business owners who were harmed during the pandemic.
The plan, called “From brakes to growth,” will provide assistance with special grants and property tax payments for small businesses and freelancers. The plan, which will cost more than NIS 2 billion, was agreed upon by Gantz and Finance Minister Israel Katz, in coordination with Netanyahu.
“This means another thousand shekels for every business owner who was harmed during the corona period, and in addition we are also extending the property tax refund period,” Netanyahu said. “The money will immediately make things easier for businesses and in a short time we will open up the whole economy and finally get out of the crisis.”
Under the approved plan, the eligibility period for business assistance grants for fixed expenses, as set for November-December 2020, will also be extended to include January and February, with the Finance Minister given the authority to extend it further if necessary.
For small businesses with 2019 revenues of NIS 18,000 to NIS 300,000, grants ranging from NIS 3,000 to NIS 9,000 will be given, depending on the extent of the damage to the business.
For businesses with 2019 revenues of NIS 300,000 up to NIS 400 million, The amount of the grant will be 50% of the average fixed expense grant given to the business so far, up to a level of NIS 50,000.
Companies with revenues above NIS 400 million will be reimbursed for property taxes at a rate determined by the extent of the loss of revenues during the coronavirus period.
Following government approval of the plan, it will be submitted to the Knesset for approval.
“The aid plan is a national need,” Gantz said. “All Israeli citizens and business owners in particular need to know that we will do everything to help them in this time of need.”
“It is precisely in this complex and challenging period that it is necessary to separate political events from the economic assistance required to overcome the crisis,” Katz added. “The public must know that the country’s leadership will do whatever it takes to overcome the corona crisis until the State of Israel returns to a reality of prosperity and economic growth.”
Reuters and Cody Levine contributed to this report.