Coronavirus: Cabinet to convene Wednesday on lockdown extension

Prime minister: Goal is to vaccinate 90% of people over the age of 50 in the next two weeks

Israelis are seen in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market amid the coronavirus pandemic, on February 2, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israelis are seen in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market amid the coronavirus pandemic, on February 2, 2021.
The government will convene today to debate whether to extend the lockdown through the weekend or begin slowly opening up as early as Friday morning.
The lockdown, as it currently stands, ends Friday at 7 a.m.
The Health Ministry, backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wants to see the lockdown last until Sunday morning.
Blue and White on Tuesday evening said its ministers would push for the resumption of one-on-one treatments and services already on Friday, as well as removing the 1,000-meter limit on travel. They will ask to allow takeaway from restaurants and for some bed and breakfasts to be open for guests, it said in a statement.
The Health Ministry believes only preschools should open on Sunday. Blue and White plans to push for much more of the education system to open up.
The discussion comes against the backdrop of striking numbers presented by Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday evening during a public briefing.
If the lockdown is extended by three days, then about 200,000 more people, mostly over the age of 50, will have received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine and be protected against contracting the disease, Netanyahu said.
If Israel opens up, millions of people are expected to gather or go shopping, Edelstein said.
“If we open the lockdown before the end of the week... the day will be referred to as ‘Black Friday,’” he said.
The aim would be to open up next week “with caution,” while accelerating the country’s vaccination campaign, Netanyahu said.
The more people who are vaccinated, the more the economy can resume, Edelstein said. The Health Ministry is considering making vaccinations available to younger people in the coming days, he said. When the country does reopen, cities will be labeled red, orange, yellow or green, not solely based on their rates of infection, but also according to how many people have been vaccinated, he added.
To help achieve this goal, Netanyahu said Israel would aim to vaccinate 90% of citizens over the age of 50 against coronavirus within the next two weeks.
Some 3.2 million Israelis had been vaccinated as of Tuesday night, 1.8 million of whom have received both doses. Currently, 77% of people over 50 have been inoculated, leaving more than 400,000 people in that age group still at risk of contracting the virus.
“This is what is challenging our health system,” Netanyahu said, “97% of those who have died are in the 50-and-over age group – almost 100% of the deceased are there.”
“Regarding serious cases, 93% of serious cases are in the 50-and-over age group,” he continued. “This is striking us and doing so very clearly.” But he and Edelstein said that despite the numbers, the government was working toward opening up some of the country next week.
On Monday, 8,261 new cases of the novel coronavirus were registered, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday. The figure represents the highest number in a week, raising concern among health officials that the infections might be on the rise again, since the reproduction, or R, rate, which measures the ability of the disease to spread, is also increasing.
The rate currently stands at 0.97; when it equals 1, each patient on average infects one other person.
Some 9.2% of tests on Monday came back positive. As of Tuesday evening, of those infected, some 1,113 were in serious condition, and 324 were on ventilators. The death toll rose to 4,886.
About 70% of people who have coronavirus in Israel are infected with the British mutation, and the percentage is edging closer to 80%, Netanyahu said.
To prevent people infected with new coronavirus variants from entering the country, Ben-Gurion Airport has been closed since January 25. The restriction is currently due to expire on February 7.
However, the government intends to introduce a bill in the Knesset that would allow the authorities to keep the airport closed for long periods of time, KAN News reported Tuesday.
On Tuesday, some rescue flights for Israelis stranded abroad managed to depart. That followed the establishment of a committee, headed by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, to approve applications for arrival into Israel while the borders are closed.
Such flights were originally scheduled for Sunday but were postponed pending instructions from the authorities.
Travelers are required to be granted special permission from the committee, based on very restrictive humanitarian criteria, as well as to present a negative COVID-19 test performed not earlier than 72 hours before the flight.
A group of Israelis stuck abroad is reportedly ready to go before the High Court of Justice to request the right to return home.
Former MK Dov Lipman, who is active in supporting new immigrants and their rights, posted on Facebook that he is coordinating an effort to petition the court.