Coronavirus: Lockdown extended until Sunday at 7 a.m.

"Irresponsible, delusional and dangerous."

An eldery man is seen sitting alone with coffee and a newspaper at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market amid the coronavirus pandemic, on February 2, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An eldery man is seen sitting alone with coffee and a newspaper at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market amid the coronavirus pandemic, on February 2, 2021.
The government voted in the middle of the night Thursday night to extend the coronavirus lockdown on Israel through Sunday at 7 a.m.
"It is good that the government has accepted the recommendations that the Health Ministry and I recommended, with only minor changes," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said shortly after the vote. "The lockdown will last until Sunday morning. I ask the public to keep the guidelines very strict and to go get vaccinated."
The lockdown was originally supposed to end at 7 a.m. on Friday. The extension passed less than five hours before the deadline.
Beginning Sunday morning, movement restrictions will be rescinded and people will be allowed to visit each other in their homes.
Nature reserves and national parks will be open. People who work in places that do not directly serve the public will be allowed to return to their offices, and one-on-one services will resume.
In addition, restaurants will be allowed to serve takeaway and bed and breakfasts will be able to take in guests. 
The government voted in principle to open preschools and grades 1-4, however the final details and the date that classrooms will open will be decided separately by the Health and Education ministries. 
"I'm glad common sense has won," Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said. "Public health is above political squabbling. We must not play with human lives."
The final decision to extend the lockdown came nearly two hours after a previous vote in favor of extending the lockdown until Sunday at midnight, which was disqualified by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, who called it "illegal."
Mandelblit's reason was that Netanyahu had violated the coalition agreement that set that Likud and Blue and White would have equal say in key decisions. Netanyahu instead used the numerical advantage of Likud over Blue and White to pass through the Health Ministry's recommendations that Blue and White opposed. 
Coalition chairman Miki Zohar, who is close to Netanyahu, accused Gantz and Blue and White of "trolling" with the help of Mandelblit. 
"They completely lost it," Zohar said. "They decided to destroy Israel in the midst of a health crisis that endangers the lives of countless citizens. They are irresponsible, delusional and dangerous."
Netanyahu backed the ministry's proposal to extend the lockdown, while Blue and White was pushing to open the country on Friday at 7 a.m., when the lockdown was already scheduled to be lifted. 
Throughout the government meeting, which lasted nearly 12 hours on-and-off, Netanyahu and Gantz hurled accusations at one another, charging each other with irresponsibility and playing political games.
The Health Ministry presented its plan to gradually lift the lockdown in three phases, taking several criteria into consideration including vaccination rates and number of serious patients, but not of new daily cases.
The ministry said the first stage of opening up could happen when two million people would be vaccinated with both shots, including 80% of those over the age of 50; an R reinfection rate of less than 1.0; and less than 1,000 patients in serious condition in order to open up. 
Health officials expressed hope that these goals could be achieved by Sunday.
Some 1.9 million Israelis have currently received both doses, and there are about 1,100 patients in serious condition. During Thursday night’s meeting, some ministers expressed disbelief that the criteria set would actually be met by Sunday.
In the first phase, according to the ministry’s outline, movement restrictions will be lifted at first, some workplaces will be allowed to reopen, and younger children will return to school.
In the second phase, sectors considered at low risk that used to operate under the “purple ribbon” standards would resume their activities through the “green label,” which the authorities are developing for people who are completely vaccinated. This phase requires three million people vaccinated with both shots, including 90% of those over the age of 50 and an R rate close to 1.0 and stable, as well as less than 800 patients in serious condition.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said he expected that there would be less than 900 serious patients in two weeks. Netanyahu expressed confidence that in two weeks Israel will also achieve the goal of vaccinating 90% of people over 50.
In the third phase, sectors considered at high risk will be allowed to open through the “green label.” For this to happen, the ministry envisions four million people vaccinated with both shots, including 95% of those over the age of 50; an R rate close to 1.0; and a stable and acceptable number of patients in serious condition.
“The morbidity in the country is very high, and unfortunately we are seeing only a moderate decrease in patients in serious conditions,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the meeting. “As a result, the strain and burden on the hospitals are very significant.
“Go get vaccinated – the vaccines work,” he said. “Therefore, if all of you go to get vaccinated – we can gradually get out of the coronavirus pandemic and open our economy carefully and responsibly.”
Gantz maintained that Israel needed “to switch from operating in an accordion mode, to a train mode with intermediate stations and a final destination – opening all sectors on the basis of the green label. The lockdown has ceased to be a working plan and the only solution on the table.”
Gantz suggested lifting restrictions according to a traffic light system, with red cities remaining under lockdown. Among other things, he urged the government to immediately cancel movement restrictions, allowing indoor gatherings of up to 10 people including in synagogues, and reopening national parks and businesses under the “purple ribbon” standards.
SOME 7,385 new cases of the virus were diagnosed on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported on Thursday. Out of over 85,000 tests, about 8.9% returned a positive result. Both figures mark a decrease from the previous day. 
Israel's coronavirus death toll passed 5,000 Thursday night and currently stands on 5,001 coronavirus deaths since the start of the pandemic, the Heath Ministry reported. 
As of Thursday night, there were about 80,000 active cases in the country. Some 1,768 patients were hospitalized, with 1,098 in serious condition, 340 of whom are intubated.
As of Thursday, all Israelis over the age of 16 are eligible to be vaccinated. So far, 3,344,629 individuals have received the first dose, including 1,953,026 who have received the second one.
Overall, about 35% of the nation’s population has already been vaccinated, after data released by the Health Ministry show a steady and high rate of infection and significant vaccination-rate disparities among residents in different parts of the country.
While in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, over 40% of the residents have been inoculated, in several other cities, the response has been far worse. In Jerusalem, only 21% of the residents have received at least one shot, and in Bnai Brak, just 15%.
During the meeting, the government approved an increase in the fines against those who violate coronavirus regulations. Among others, schools which operate in spite of the prohibitions will receive a NIS 5,000 fine if they have less than 35 pupils and a NIS 10,000 fine if they are attended by a higher number of students. In addition, holding events with more participants than allowed will lead to a NIS 5,000 fine for those happening in open areas and a NIS 10,000 fine for those in closed spaces.
The government was also expected to discuss the closures of the borders and the skies, which are due to expire on Sunday.
At the moment, Israelis cannot enter or leave the countries except for very specific and urgent circumstances, and with a personal authorization from a newly formed governmental committee.
In the end, no decision was made on the skies. However, it was ruled that for those who do manage to return, the requirement to quarantine in a coronavirus hotel was extended by two weeks, until February 21.
The government agreed to meet again on Sunday to discuss the next stages of the exit strategy.