Coronavirus: Israel vaccinates 500,000th person against COVID-19

Infection rises to nearly 5,500 new cases in a single day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein are seen with Herzl Levy, the 500,000th Israeli to be given the COVID-19 vaccine. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein are seen with Herzl Levy, the 500,000th Israeli to be given the COVID-19 vaccine.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/FLASH90)
The 500,000th Israeli was vaccinated against the novel coronavirus on Tuesday at a Clalit health fund clinic in Jerusalem, as the Health Ministry reported another spike in coronavirus cases 
Herzl Levy from the Neveh Ya'acov neighborhood of the capital was vaccinated in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. His wife, Padilla, was also vaccinated. 
“We are ahead of the world in bringing and administering vaccines,” the prime minister said. “Israel is the world champion in vaccines, in first place. My task now is to ensure that we continue at this pace and we work on it together.”
He said that “we will strive to administer as many vaccines as possible, quickly, but first of all, to the population at risk, as that is where most of the tragic mortality and morbidity is concentrated. Only then can we open the economy, help businesses, and return to normal life. This is our goal: to get life back on track as quickly as possible.”
The vaccination event was also attended by Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, as well as the head of the Clalit health fund Prof. Ehud Davidson and the fund’s chairman Yohanan Locker.
“Prime minister,” said Edelstein, “at this rate, we will also invite you to the millionth vaccination.”
Earlier in the day, Edelstein celebrated that the number of Israelis vaccinated against the coronavirus is now higher than the number of those who have been infected with the virus since the beginning of the outbreak - around 410,000 people. 
A quarter of people between the ages of 70- and 79-years-old have been vaccinated thus far, the Health Ministry reported. At the same time, 20% of Israelis in their 60s, 18% in their 80s and 11% in their 90s have also been jabbed. 
Some 1,765 Israelis under the age of 20 were vaccinated,  with some 12 children under the age of 10 vaccinated, despite regulations banning children under the age of 16 from receiving the vaccination.
The city leading the country in the total number of vaccinations is Tel Aviv, with almost 27,000 vaccinations as of Tuesday morning, followed by Jerusalem in second place. The city with the highest percentage of vaccinations per capita was Arad, followed by Kiryat Shmona.
In contrast to the Jewish sector, members of the Arab community appear to be the least likely to get inoculated, the report showed. A number of Arab communities in Israel were listed among the bottom 15 cities in terms of vaccinations, with some cities listed with only a few dozen citizens vaccinated so far. 
Ayman Saif, who serves as the coronavirus liaison to the Arab community, said in an interview with Israel media that he is concerned that the Arab sector will not vaccinate because it does not trust the government.
Meanwhile, it was decided Tuesday evening that if health funds in the north and south have excess vaccines at the end of the day, they may be used to vaccinate people without appointments, with an eye toward inoculating the at-risk population. 
“This decision is intended to enable the vaccine to be given as quickly as possible to all those at risk,” the Health Ministry said in a statement, “as this is the way to beat coronavirus and get back to routine.”
The ministry also stressed that it had caught a rumor of health funds allowing the general public to make appointments or even come vaccinate and that “at this stage, there is no change in priority, and therefore the guidelines set must be adhered to.”
Israel is not expected to have a shortage of vaccines and should start inoculating teachers by Sunday and the general population within the next two weeks. Netanyahu is working closely with Pfizer to see about advancing several hundreds of thousands of doses to ensure that Israel can keep pace with its goal of vaccinating between 100,000 and 150,000 people per day.
Netanyahu said that he wants 2.25 million Israelis to be vaccinated within six weeks. 
Another 800,000 Pfizer vaccines landed in Israel on Tuesday. 
The vaccination campaign is running parallel to a lockdown, as infection rates continue to rise at rapid rates.
On Tuesday morning, the Health Ministry reported 5,487 new cases of the virus were diagnosed on Monday, the largest number of cases in a day since the beginning of October, with 5.6% of tests returning positive.
Of those infected, 623 patients were in serious condition at press time, including 158 who were on ventilators. Around 60 people died over the last day, bringing Israel’s death toll to 3,286.
The number of daily cases is almost a thousand cases higher than the number reported when the second coronavirus lockdown began in September.
Health Ministry officials are saying that the closure is not strict enough and are considering requesting that the coronavirus cabinet reconvene and tighten regulations. 
The Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center warned in a report on Tuesday that the numbers were expected to continue rising as large amounts of tests were being conducted, indicating a significant increase in infection rates. The number of patients in serious condition is also "on a clear upward trend," according to the center.
It said that leaving the education system – especially high schools – open will challenge the reduction of infection rates and may accelerate a third wave before the effects of the vaccinations are felt.
At the same time, many more cities were labeled red on Tuesday as the Health Ministry rolled out an updated version of its traffic light program. There are now 74 cities and neighborhoods labeled as red, 117 orange, 151 yellow and 946 green.
The Education Ministry explained the strategy for opening schools in these zones late Tuesday: Classes will take place in all localities, regardless of infection level, for preschoolers and students in grades 1-4 and special education programs. Daycares would also continue to operate. 
However, the ministry clarified that classes for kids in grades 5-12 would only take place in green and yellow zones. These students in orange and red zones would learn from home. 
Outdoor meetings for students in capsules of 19 can take place in all localities. 
The outline was revealed as it was reported that some 11 students and two teachers from the same class were infected with the coronavirus at a school in Rehovot. Similarly, 14 students and faculty of Hebrew University tested positive for the coronavirus and 28 were sent into quarantine, the university told students in an email on Monday.
Finally, Israelis returning from abroad should no longer need to quarantine in coronavirus hotels, Edelstein said Tuesday, instructing senior Health Ministry officials to close them as soon as possible.
According to the new plan, every Israeli who returns to Israel from abroad should take a coronavirus test at the airport and enter home isolation for two weeks or 10 days, so long as the person takes a second coronavirus test on day nine and it is negative.