COVID-19: Gov't to meet Thursday on extending lockdown, airport closure

Israel land borders are going to close on Thursday • Patients in serious condition still over 1,100, as hospitals struggle with overload • 35-year-olds will be able to get vaccinated

A wintery storm of rain and hail hits Jerusalem, Israel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A wintery storm of rain and hail hits Jerusalem, Israel
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel’s land borders are going to close on Thursday morning, the Interior Ministry announced Wednesday. The move is motivated by the attempt to prevent the new highly infectious coronavirus variants from entering the country.
The government is also going to meet on Thursday to discuss extending the lockdown and the closure of the sky, which are due to end on January 31.
While visiting a vaccination center in Sderot with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to prolong both measures to protect Israel from the variants.
“We will decide for how long based on the morbidity rate,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Health Ministry reported that Israel registered a slight decrease in new daily cases on Tuesday, while the number of serious and ventilated patients remains high.
Some 7,756 new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported, with 9.6% of tests returning positive. As of Wednesday night, 1,160 patients were in serious condition and 316 were on ventilators. The death toll stood at 4,574, with over 1,200 people passing away from the virus since the beginning of January.
The ministry is pushing for extending the restrictive measures by at least one week to see a more significant reduction in numbers and to relieve the overloaded hospital system.
For several days, ambulances have found it increasingly difficult to find available beds to evacuate the sick. In some areas of the country, the situation was exacerbated by a deep financial crisis that has severely limited the ability of several public hospitals to operate.
On Thursday night the hospitals – Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah-University Medical Center, Netanya’s Laniado Medical Center, Bnei Brak’s Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center and three hospitals in Nazareth, announced that they had reached an agreement with the Finance Ministry, a move that might help to improve the health system’s situation in some areas of the country.
Ahead of the cabinet meeting on Thursday, the forces that sit in the government appear deeply divided on the approach to maintain, with Blue and White ministers demanding a society-wide increase in law enforcement before agreeing to convene the cabinet to discuss postponing the end of the current restrictions.
“Either everyone is to abide by the lockdown, or there will be no lockdown. Let it be clear to the schemers from the Likud: Blue and White will not give up on the fact that all educational institutions throughout the country will need to be closed,” the party’s Twitter account posted on Wednesday morning, as the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee met to discuss a bill proposing an increase in fines for violating coronavirus measures.
 “Unlike Netanyahu, we have responsibility,” the post continued. “We will not allow irresponsible policies motivated by political interests which cost human lives. The law for Herzliya is also the law for Bnei Brak,” The statement referred to the numerous accidents involving ultra-Orthodox institutions opening in spite of the prohibition.
Health officials hope that extending the lockdown will buy more time for Israel to reach a higher number of immunized citizens.
The country continues to inoculate about 200,000 people a day. As of Wednesday evening, 2,804,041 Israelis had received their first dose of coronavirus vaccine and 1,448,827 had received the second dose. The Health Ministry announced that starting on Thursday, people as young as 35 will be able to set an appointment to be inoculated.
Israeli authorities had hoped that by now, the morbidity in the country would have dropped due to the vaccination campaign.
However, the new variants appear to have dramatically increased the ability of the virus to infect, as well as the severity of the disease among those infected.
While experts are confident that the vaccine is effective against the British mutation, which is currently prevalent in the country, some are casting doubts about the South African and the Brazilian ones.
“We are troubled by the South African and Brazilian variants. With the Brazilian strain there is a concern that it is resistant to the vaccine, and we do not yet have a final result regarding this,” Deputy Director of the Health Ministry’s Department of Epidemiology, Dr. Roy Singer, said during the meeting of the Knesset Committee.