Health Ministry to push for 'total lockdown' as coronavirus cases rise

More than one million Israelis vaccinated against the virus

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)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein will push for a short, but total closure this week as the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise.
"In light of the significant and alarming increase in morbidity, the number of serious patients and the revelation [that there are more cases] of the mutation, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein intends to bring to the government a resolution for a full lockdown for two weeks," a statement by the Health Ministry said.
The move will come as more than one million Israelis have had the first jab of a vaccine against corona and amid concerns that the vaccination campaign may need to be slowed down as the country awaits its next shipments from Pfizer and first shipments from Moderna.
On Friday, Israel celebrated as the one millionth citizen was vaccinated against the novel coronavirus in the presence of Netanyahu and Edelstein.
“We have surpassed the whole world” when it comes to vaccinations,” the prime minister said. “We are moving forward at tremendous speed.”
But in Umm al-Fahm, where 66-year-old Jabrin Mohammed got the jab, vaccination has been low. The Arab community, it was reported by the Health Ministry last week, accounts for the smallest number of citizens who have had the jab.
“It is important to me that the Arab public in Israel also vaccinate quickly,” Netanyahu continued. “This is important because it saves lives.”
Edelstein, too, reminded the Arab public that “we are all together” in the battle against coronavirus. “There is no difference if the person being vaccinated is an ultra-Orthodox Jew or a secular Jew, whether he is Arab or a Druze or a Circassian. As long as we do not succeed in reaching high numbers of vaccinations in every society, we will not be able to open trade, culture, sports or prayers.”
But several Arab leaders were not impressed with Netanyahu's performance in the city and said it would be ineffective.
"It once frightened the public that we were 'flocking to the polls,'" tweeted MK Yousef Jabareen Friday afternoon. "Now, 'flocking to the vaccines' is Netanyahu's election propaganda. This is the same instigator, Netanyahu, who is now also seeking votes. You got the wrong address!"
"In Umm al-Fahm, like in all of Arab society, Netanyahu is neither a guest nor welcomed," tweeted MK Sami Abou Shahadeh, who was in the city at the same time as the prime minister. "Netanyahu's coronavirus campaign in Arab society will fail."
Israel is No. 1 per capita when it comes to vaccinations. On Friday morning, the Health Ministry reported that some 10% of the population had been inoculated.
Nonetheless, as health officials have warned, the first vaccination shots will not on their own stop the spread of the virus. As such, the Health Ministry and Netanyahu plan to push to tighten restrictions this week, potentially closing up the country closer to the way it was over Yom Kippur.
There were 6,004 new cases diagnosed with coronavirus on Friday - 6.1% of those screened tested positive, up from 5.7% the day before.
Some 1,243 people were being treated in the hospital on Saturday night, including 739 in serious condition, among them 177 who were intubated.
The death toll stood at 3,384.
Media and social media showed parks and open areas crowded with people over the weekend, breaking the rules of the lockdown.
“Unfortunately, for populist and political reasons, there were politicians who prevented us from doing a short, tight closure that we wanted and that would have saved hundreds of people,” Netanyahu said at the vaccination event.
He called on politicians “to come to their senses.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz responded Friday by saying that, “Enforcement and prevention in places where it is necessary prevents closures in places where they are not needed.”
Moreover, Science and Technology Minister Yizhar Shay said Friday that he met with top members of the coronavirus advisory team and they reported "encouraging signs of moderation and perhaps even a decrease in the reproduction rate. The next few days are especially important for understanding the condition of the disease and the effect of the current closure on mitigating the rate of increase.
He said that "there is no need to frighten the public'' with threats of extensions and restrictions. Rather, the models show that it may be possible to lift the lockdown on time - by a week from Sunday. Moreover, he said that closing the education system would have no significant impact, according to expert models.
The Health Ministry had said that tightening restrictions would mean closing classrooms for students in grades 5 through 10, reducing the number of people allowed to be in offices from 50% to 30%, reducing public transportation - already at 50% - and perhaps further restricting movement.
"We have to wait another week," Shay said. "There is no need to make dramatic decisions right now."
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to convene at the beginning of the week to discuss the situation.
Health officials have stressed that the two-dose Pfizer vaccine regimen means that the vaccine is only fully effective about five weeks after the first dose. This means it could take until sometime in February for enough elderly and high-risk people to be vaccinated to help lower the spread of infection and begin further opening up the economy.
Moreover, the risk of catching coronavirus after the first jab has been confirmed in that some 15,000 patients who received the first dose of the vaccine were screened and 428 tested positive for corona, according to reports. Some 12 people were hospitalized. It is possible that some of them were exposed to the virus even before being vaccinated.
Regarding the shortage of vaccines, it is still unclear if Israel will succeed in getting the doses it needs to continue with the current pace of the campaign.
Health funds have booked appointments about three weeks out on the assumption that additional vaccines will be delivered. Due to the fact that the additional vials have not yet come, some funds do intend to postpone some appointments, but they will likely only decide for sure in the coming days.
Netanyahu continued to hold talks, including over the weekend, with the heads of Pfizer and Moderna to see about getting the vaccines as soon as possible to close the gap. Either way, the Health Ministry said that mass vaccination of younger and healthier Israelis will be able to begin by early February, as originally planned.