Israel heads to third coronavirus lockdown at 5 p.m. Sunday

Knesset Education Committee plans to overturn distance learning mandate • More than 260,000 people vaccinated so far

The streets of Tel Aviv are seen empty as Israel's second lockdown goes into effect on Shabbat, September 2020 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
The streets of Tel Aviv are seen empty as Israel's second lockdown goes into effect on Shabbat, September 2020
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
The country is heading into its third coronavirus lockdown at 5 p.m. today – with the hope that mass vaccination will make it the last.
The lockdown is supposed to last for two weeks, but health officials have already warned it will likely continue for at least a month, when the number of new daily cases should fall to 1,000 or fewer and the reproduction rate hits one or less.
The reproduction rate is the number of people a sick person infects.
At the same time, more than 260,000 citizens have received their first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. The goal, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is that 2.25 million Israelis will be fully inoculated and protected from COVID-19 within the next month.
On Friday, the government approved and rolled out the details of this latest lockdown. The biggest point of contention appears to be that, according to its outline, students in 5th through 10th grade will return to full-time distance learning.
Blue and White MK Ram Shefa, the head of the Knesset’s Education Committee, has said that he plans to work to overturn the decision at a meeting that begins Sunday at 10 a.m. Speaking over the weekend to Channel 12, he said he believes that he has a majority to make it happen.
“The prime minister has decided to close a large part of the education system,” Shefa said on Meet the Press. “I intend to oppose it.”
He said that “Education is the most important thing… I hope the government will understand that it made a mistake.”
His words were echoed Saturday night by Vered Windman, executive director of the National Council for the Child, who said that “the government’s decision to ignore these age groups is nothing less than the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of children, just because it is seemingly possible to leave them alone at home and go to work. It’s a narrow and outrageous outlook.”
She explained in a statement that children of these ages are “in the middle of the process of forming a personal identity” and that they are at risk of “emotional difficulties, the development of anxiety and loneliness, risky behaviors… Exactly the children and youth at ages that need to be embraced more will again be abandoned in front of the screens alone.”
The rest of the details of the lockdown are not expected to change, such as that travel more than 1,000 meters from home is forbidden, except for approved reasons. These reasons include getting vaccinated, obtaining medical care, attending a demonstration or legal proceedings, and participating in an individual sport (although one cannot drive to do it).
In addition, minors can be transferred between divorced parents, and weddings and funerals can be attended according to Health Ministry regulations.
People are not allowed to congregate in each other’s homes.
Anyone who breaks these regulations is subject to a NIS 500 fine.
The lockdown also shutters businesses and leisure activities.
All stores will be closed except those that sell essential services: food, hygiene products, optics, pharmaceuticals, electrical appliances and home repair supplies.
In contrast to what was originally assumed, no one-on-one services or alternative medical services will be allowed. This includes the shuttering of hair salons and beauty parlors.
Bed and breakfasts, zoos, nature reserves, national parks and memorial sites will also be shut down.
While restaurants can deliver, takeaway is not allowed.
Neither are driving lessons or any organized excursions.
Preschoolers and children in grades 1-4 will continue to go to school as usual, including after-school programs. Special needs programs and schools for kids-at-risk will also continue as usual. Students in grades 11-12 will also go to school, but they will learn in capsules and their teachers will only be allowed to teach in up to four capsules.
As noted, unless changed, students in grades 5-10 will move to distance learning.
Workplaces will once again move to working from home or putting staff on furlough. Only 50% of staff in companies with more than 10 employees may come to work at a time. In smaller companies, all 10 may be there together – so long as the business is not customer-facing.
The “green island” program that allowed Israelis to travel to Eilat or the Dead Sea resort area will cease on Monday.
But there are some things that people will be able to do. For example, professional athletes can train in their gyms. Women can also immerse in the mikvah ritual bath. People can also still leave the country; they can travel to the airport up to eight hours before their flight.
The Israel Police have said it plans to step-up enforcement this time around. Roadblocks are expected to be erected every evening, and police said there would be a no-tolerance policy for gatherings in all sectors.
Just before the lockdown was expected to take effect, Israelis took advantage of the nice weekend weather to flock to parks and nature reserves en masse. Scenes on social media and TV also showed thousands of them packed into shopping centers and malls, as well as large parties in Tel Aviv.
So many tens of thousands of people went out that at one point on Saturday, the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) asked the public not to visit several parks and forests.
The Nature and Parks Authority said that the nature reserves and national parks will be closed to the public due to the closure.
“We call on the public to obey the instructions and take care of their health,” the authority said in a statement.
The hope is that during the lockdown enough people will be vaccinated to make this the country’s last closure.
Netanyahu released a video message Saturday night saying he hoped that Israel could begin vaccinating as many as 150,000 people per day in the coming days.
“This means that within 30 days of reaching this rate, we would vaccinate 4.5 million citizens,” the prime minister said. “But since everyone needs two shots, after one month, 2.25 million citizens will be vaccinated in Israel. There is no such thing in the world.”
He said that this first round would include all medical personnel and the entire high-risk and elderly populations, which accounts for 95% of the mortality in the country.
“Once we have completed this stage… we can get out of the coronavirus, open up the economy and do things that no country can do,” Netanyahu concluded.
So far, more than 260,000 Israelis have been vaccinated, according to the Health Ministry and health funds, with the largest number being inoculated by Clalit Health Fund – more than 100,000. Maccabi has vaccinated more than 60,000, including more than 7,000 on Saturday alone.
Israel could reach 150,000 vaccinations a day, as the prime minister recommended, given that Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Sheba Medical Center announced on Friday that they, too, would be helping with the public vaccination campaign. More hospitals are expected to join as well.
In addition, Clalit said it would open several 24/7 clinics. N12 reported that the first three would start operations this week in Haifa, Herzliya and Tel Aviv.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that he has asked his director-general, Chezy Levy, to look into whether teaching staff could begin vaccinating as early as this week. He added that patients with chronic illnesses can now start to get inoculated. He also said that as of Sunday, there will be 150 vaccination stations, with another 80 expected to open by Tuesday.
Until then, the numbers of COVID-19 sufferers and fatalities continue to rise.
Some 3,994 were diagnosed with coronavirus on Friday – 4.7% of the 86,960 people screened. There were another 1,439 cases between midnight and press time on Saturday.
Some 561 people were in serious condition, including 136 who were intubated. The death rate stood at 3,203.