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Coronavirus in Israel: Gov’t meets late into the night on lockdown exit

CM 04/02/2021

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The nationwide lockdown was expected to be extended until at least Sunday when the cabinet met late into the night on Thursday, amid clashes between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz
The meeting lasted several hours in an effort to find a compromise between Likud and Blue and White, with the former supporting maintaining the restrictions until Sunday at midnight and the latter pushing to lift them on Friday morning as is currently planned. 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.
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, although a detailed plan would need to be formulated at a later stage together with the Education Ministry.
In order for this to happen, the ministry requires two million people 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.
Health officials expressed hope that these goals could be achieved by Sunday at midnight, and asked to maintain the current set of measures until then.
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 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.
For those who do manage to return, the requirement to quarantine in a coronavirus hotel was extended by two weeks, until February 21.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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