Coronavirus: Infection down, vaccination up - cabinet to meet Sunday

The Health Ministry has targeted February 23 as the start of the next phase of its plan.

Israelis are seen boarding the light rail on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem after the coronavirus lockdown ends, on February 8, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israelis are seen boarding the light rail on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem after the coronavirus lockdown ends, on February 8, 2021.
The coronavirus cabinet will meet Sunday to discuss the next phase of the country’s exit strategy, as the infection rate continues to decline, and the number of people vaccinated is on the rise.
The next phase of the exit strategy is expected to include street shops, as well as a number of other arenas that could be open only to people who have been vaccinated or recovered from coronavirus.
Those areas include shopping malls, cultural and sporting events, hotel (rooms only) and gyms.
“If all goes well, we hope we can open street shops and malls, and start carefully opening cultural shows for which entry will only be allowed for green passport holders,” Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said in a weekend interview with KAN.
The Health Ministry has targeted February 23 as the start of the next phase of its plan, requiring a staged exit as was hoped for in the past, so that the impact of relief can be monitored. Levy said that the country will only fully understand the results of the various reliefs rolled out last week in about 10 days.
“I would recommend continuing to open carefully and thoughtfully,” he said.
However, Blue and White has said that it will push to speed up the exit.
Blue and White said over the weekend that Netanyahu is purposely pushing off any major openings until closer to the elections so that he can hold a “victory party” over his handling of the pandemic.
“As far as Netanyahu is concerned,” Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz told KAN TV’s Yaron Deckel, “there will be a closure until two weeks before the election.”
He said Blue and White would push the cabinet to vote in favor of gradually opening businesses as early as this week alongside the green passport program.
“You got vaccinated, you can get in,” Gantz stressed in a statement Saturday night is the way reliefs should work.
“The fight in the cabinet meeting tomorrow will be between winter inventory and public health,” senior officials in the Health Ministry reportedly told Channel 12. “We hope that public health will be victorious.”
Israelis enjoyed their first weekend without a restriction on travelling a kilometer from home by taking to national parks and reserves ahead of what meteorologists have promised to be one of the coldest weeks this year.
“We were happy to see thousands of hikers return to nature for a walk and enjoy the blooming flowers and flowing streams and waterfalls,” said Nature and Parks Authority Director-General Shaul Goldstein.
The authority reported that about 150,000 hikers visited national parks and nature reserves across Israel, and that an additional 1,300 people spent the night in Israel’s campgrounds.
In addition, social media showed images of packed Israeli beaches, including the promenade in Tel Aviv, where it was also now permitted to visit.
Israelis had reason to celebrate over the weekend, after a report by the Health Ministry on Friday showed that Israel’s reproduction rate - also known as the “R” - dropped to 0.88, the lowest in the three months.
On Saturday night, the Health Ministry shared that less than 5,000 new cases (4,595) were discovered on Friday - 7.1% of the roughly 67,000 people who were screened. The 6.7% positive shown Friday was the lowest positive rates since January 9.
The number of new cases per week has fallen from 7,122 the week of January 17 and around 6,500 between the weeks of January 24 and February 6 to 5,633 last week.
The number of serious patients is also on the decline, especially among people 60 and older, many of whom have already had two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
In total, there were 992 serious cases reported by the Health Ministry on Saturday, the third day in which the number was less than 1,000.
Among those in serious condition, 61% are over the age of 60, 18% are between 50 and 59 and 10% are in their 40s. Moreover, there are 73 serious patients in their 30s (7%) and another 21 who are 29 years of age or younger (2%).
The death toll stood at 5,340. More than 50 people died between the report the Health Ministry sent on Friday at 3 p.m. and its report after Shabbat on Saturday evening.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein shared positive news on Friday morning: 147,000 people were vaccinated the day before, an increase from the low the country had been experiencing in the last week or so. However, the Health Ministry reported that only 75,990 people were vaccinated on Friday and another 35,133 got the jab on Saturday.
In total, more than 3.8 million people have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and another 2.4 million their second dose, too.
“We will open gyms,” Edelstein said. “You will decide whether you be part of the celebration or stay behind. Just ‘give a shoulder to the vaccine. A small step for you, a big step for the country.”
“Those who don’t vaccinate now will be very sorry when in a month we open the soccer, event halls and concerts and they will have to stand in lines for vaccines,” Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told Channel 13 over the weekend.
The Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality stepped up efforts to improve the level of vaccination in its red neighborhoods over the weekend.
On Friday, a truck with a huge electronic screen traveled through those neighborhoods showing the numbers of sick and hospitalized people in the city, along with a message about the importance of following guidelines and getting vaccinated.
In addition, the municipality ran public transport vehicles through the city and, in various languages, called on residents to get vaccinated, tested and follow guidelines.
The president of Cyprus and other senior officials are expected to land in Israel on Sunday to meet with the president, prime minister and foreign minister. The main purpose of the visit is to finalize details around mutual recognition of the two countries’ vaccination certificates.
Also, Netanyahu spoke over the week with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Netanyahu and Bolsonaro agreed to cooperate on the development of drugs and vaccines for the coronavirus, the Prime Minister’s Office said. Similarly, Netanyahu and Frederiksen spoke about possible cooperation on the research, development and manufacturing of vaccines.
Head of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis told Channel 12 over the weekend that despite “buzz in the media” that the youth don’t want to be vaccinated, younger Israelis are getting vaccinated at a steady rate.
The campaign has been open to people age 16 and over for about two weeks. Since then, around 45% of young adults ages 16-29 have received at least one dose of the vaccine or recovered from the virus, the Health Ministry showed.