Coronavirus in Israel: Cabinet extends lockdown until the end of January

Over 10,000 new cases recorded in 24 hours * Death toll stands at 4,080

Police are seen checking drivers at a coronavirus checkpoint near Jerusalem's Gan Sacher amid lockdown, on January 12, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Police are seen checking drivers at a coronavirus checkpoint near Jerusalem's Gan Sacher amid lockdown, on January 12, 2021.
The cabinet met on Tuesday and approved an extension of the current reinforced lockdown until the end of January, a shorter period than the one originally requested by the Health Ministry in light of a surge in new cases.
Moreover, the ministers approved requiring all passengers entering Israel from abroad to present a negative coronavirus test performed no earlier than 72 hours before their flight.
Earlier in the day, Israel registered a record of 10,021 new cases of the novel coronavirus in 24 hours, as the ministry announced that it would expand its vaccination campaign to 40 year olds and administer 250,000 shots every day. Some 277 patients were on ventilators, while the death toll stood at 4,049, with over 40 people dying from the virus in 24 hours.
“We find ourselves in the middle of a close race between the vaccination campaign and the rising morbidity in the world because of the mutations,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the beginning of the cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu stressed that many lives would be lost if the restrictions were not confirmed, and he asked for all citizens to abide by the law, “including those who attended the scandalous wedding in Bnei Brak yesterday.” Ultra-Orthodox cities and neighborhoods are registering record numbers of coronavirus cases and Israeli media have reported repeated violations of the restrictions.
The reinforced lockdown, which includes the complete shutdown of the education system, was set to expire later this week. In light of the high morbidity – as well as the crowding of hospitals, with some 1,114 patients in serious condition – the Health Ministry recommended extending the closure for another two weeks, but the final decision was to prolong the measures only until January 31.
Only two exceptions to the closures were approved: University students who do not have access to distance learning will be able to take exams on campus, provided that their number does not exceed 5%, and high school students in 11th and 12th grades will be able to attend their matriculation exams in schools.
Some ministers criticized coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash for not detailing a clear exit strategy, according to Channel 12.
During the meeting, Ash explained that between 30% and 40% of current cases are infected with the British strain, and that he expects the coronavirus variant to become the most common in the country within a few weeks. The new, highly contagious variants are considered responsible for the spike in the morbidity rate.
In an interview with Army Radio earlier in the day, Ash said that while the vaccines are helping to contain the pandemic, he called on the public to be patient and to keep the regulations.
He also addressed the issue of hospital overcrowding.
“The crowding is real and the hospitals do need help,” he said. “But I think there isn’t a problem in accepting patients, and I do not believe that there will be any need to limit the number of people who can be hospitalized. We will open as many beds as needed.”
ON MONDAY, the country hit a record, vaccinating 186,000 people over the course of 24 hours. Some 114,000 people were given a second dose and another 72,000 a first dose.
In total, 2.2 million Israelis have been inoculated, or 25% of the population, including 422,000 people (about 5%) who have had both doses.
Israel started its vaccination campaign on December 17. For the first few weeks, priority was given to medical staff, patients with preexisting conditions and people over the age of 60. But the Health Ministry has progressively expanded its criteria to include teachers and younger people. Over 76% of teachers and people over the age of 60 have already received at least the first shot.
In the past month, the country has established itself as a vaccination powerhouse. In exchange for medical data, the government persuaded the Pfizer pharmaceutical company to drastically increase the supply of coronavirus vaccine doses from what they had originally agreed upon.
According to what was reported by Israeli media last week, Pfizer is set to provide between 400,000 and 700,000 doses a week.
The success in the vaccination campaign unfortunately coincides with an unprecedented surge in cases. In addition to Israel registering over 10,000 cases on Monday and hospitals treating 1,114 patients in serious condition, at last count, the death toll reached 4,049 after an increase of 40 deaths in 24 hours.
Maayan Hoffman contributed to this report.